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Every year on May 5, the health community celebrates World Hand Hygiene Day, but this may be the most important celebration yet. Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways of spreading pathogens and preventing infections. Incorporating regular hand washing into your day helps you stay healthy and protect the health of everyone else.
Reading studies about the prevalence of bacteria on hands and common items can be fuel for paranoia. But we're not here to scare you straight: Not all bacteria is harmful, and even the vast majority of harmful bacteria is too weak to sicken someone with a healthy immune system.
That being said, it helps to remember that not everyone has a healthy immune system. Children are still building theirs. People with chronic diseases may have a compromised system, especially those with HIV or Hepatitis. Elderly adults may also have a weakened immune system. Even if you personally might not be sidelined for long by a bout of food poisoning or the flu, these illnesses might be devastating to someone more vulnerable. Hand washing is not just an act of personal health, but one of public health.
Hand washing seems like a small act, but the diseases it can prevent are numerous and can be harmful even to someone with a strong immune system. These illnesses are incredibly contagious, and can include:
Occasions where hand washing is necessary can sometimes seem obvious, but these occasions can become just as habitual and easy to neglect as hand washing itself. How often do we eat meals without washing up beforehand or cough into our hands without washing them afterwards? Being mindful of these moments and taking the time to wash up is a great way to reduce the spread of illness and to keep ourselves healthy.
For a daily act, hand washing often seems to be inadequately practiced and understood. Studies by health organizations have regularly confirmed that people wash their hands improperly, most often for too little time or with too little attention to all the parts of our hands.
The most effective hand washing method is:
It's particularly important to teach children this method. Getting into the habit of proper hand washing early helps to create a good habit that will help children stay healthy, particularly while young and prone to sickness.
Beyond the basic washing method, here are some facts to keep in mind:
When soap or water aren't available, consider hand sanitizer. It's not a perfect substitute for hand washing, as soap and water more thoroughly remove pathogens from your skin, but when you're on the go it's a great option. Carrying hand sanitizer in your car, purse, or backpack, as well as having it available in your workspace, will help reduce the spread of pathogens when hand washing isn't immediately accessible.Maintaining proper hygiene is a way that everyone can help fight the spread of COVID-19. Do your part in protecting your health and the health of your family, friends, and neighbors by practicing effective hand washing!