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3 Reasons Why Handwashing Should Matter to You

Posted on by David M. Berendes, PhD, MSPH, Epidemiologist

Unseen woman washing her hands with soap in a sink.

Most of us are familiar with the parental-like voice in the back of our minds that helps guide our decision-making—asking us questions like, “Have you called your grandmother lately?” For many that voice serves as a gentle, yet constant reminder to wash our hands.

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to loved ones. Many diseases are spread by not cleaning your hands properly after touching contaminated objects or surfaces. And although not all germs are bad, illness can occur when harmful germs enter our bodies through the eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s why it is critical to wash hands at key times, such as after a flood or during a flu pandemic, when germs can be passed from person to person and make others sick.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them, however during a disaster clean, running water may not be available. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Here are three key reasons why you should always care about handwashing:Your hands carry germs you can't see. Wash your hands.

  1. Handwashing can keep children healthy and in school. Handwashing education can reduce the number of young children who get sick and help prevent school absenteeism.
  2. Handwashing can help prevent illness. Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the most important action you can take to protect yourself from flu. Besides getting a flu vaccine, CDC recommends everyday preventive actions including frequent handwashing with soap and water.
  3. Handwashing is easy! Effective handwashing is a practical skill that you can easily learn, teach to others, and practice every day to prepare for an emergency. It takes around 20 seconds, and can be done in five simple steps:
    1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap
    2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap
    3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
    4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
    5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them

Promote Handwashing in Your Community

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated annually on October 15 to promote handwashing with soap as an easy and affordable way to prevent disease in communities around the world. This year’s theme, “Clean Hands—A Recipe for Health,” calls attention to the importance of handwashing at key times, such as before eating or feeding others, and before, during, and after preparing food.

Learn how you can get involved and promote handwashing at home, your child’s school or daycare, and your local community:

Posted on by David M. Berendes, PhD, MSPH, EpidemiologistTags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 comments on “3 Reasons Why Handwashing Should Matter to You”

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    What about the counter-argument to the over-obsession with hand washing and the endless application of antibacterial lotions that are everywhere today that weren’t, say, 20 to 30 years ago? What about the antibodies that can’t be developed to fight certain diseases because we don’t allow our bodies to create them?

    I grew up in the 1980s and played on the ball fields every day in the summer, and sure we (usually) washed our hands before eating, but it wasn’t life or death (literally) like the message seems to be today. Plus, it seems kids are getting sicker much easier these days and I can’t help but think it’s partially because society’s new obsession with keeping them too clean is contradictory to keeping them healthy.

    Thanks for your inquiry! Research shows that regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others. CDC’s guidance on handwashing refers to washing hands with plain (non-‘antibacterial’) soap and water. In fact, the FDA recently issued a final order banning the use of so-called antibacterial products in soaps because they were no more effective than ‘plain’ soap and ran the risk of further antimicrobial resistance concerns.

    From a nurse’s perspective, there are few things as important as washing our hands. It is one of the most important steps we can take to protect our patients, our families, and ourselves. As a healthcare worker it is vital that we prevent the spread of germs and illness from one patient to the next. Failure to do so could result in increasing illness and even death for the patients we care for. Proper hand washing can also reduce the amount of antibiotics used to treat infections, decreasing the amount of antibiotic resistance we see in healthcare. Hand washing is something that can become routine if we start teaching it at a young age. Much like brushing teeth or wiping properly, our children need to be shown proper hand hygiene and it should be enforced until it becomes part of daily life.

    Hand washing is the best protection again illnesses in the community. Proper hand washing can prevent the spread of germs, especially those related to respiratory and GI illnesses. As we go throughout our day, germs build up and is spread by whatever we touched. Washing hands after performing any task that can cause contamination can stop the spread of infection. Germs are also picked up and can enter our body through the rubbing of our eyes , putting fingers in mouth and via food consumption. From a nurse’s perspective, hand washing is one of the most important methods to breaking the mode of transmission. Educating the public on when and why to wash their hands can decrease the transference of illnesses within the community and increase population awareness. I like the demonstration of proper hand washing video as a visual cue for the next time.

    From a nurse’s perspective hand washing is the most substantial way to protect our patients and ourselves form illnesses. One thing we are taught as nurses is the use of hand sanitizer is only effective if the hand in not visibly soiled. I always wonder if schools are teaching our children the appropriate ways to use hand sanitizers? I have two smaller children myself, and more often than not their hands are filthy after school. So are they washing hands, if they are it certainly seems like it’s not properly? A recent study in the journal Pediatrics looked at nearly 1,000 daycare pre-school students who were divided into three groups. One group wash hands normally, group 2 was instructed on how to properly wash with liquid hand soap, and the third group used liquid hand sanitizer. Over an eight-month period, the group of children that used the hand sanitizers had 23 percent fewer respiratory infections. Although there is more research to be done, this study is a start to the discussion that already exists regarding the effectiveness of hand sanitizer. It seems that at least for the very young children the best intervention is to continue to use hand sanitizer, simply due to the fact that hand hand washing by this group has proven to be inadequate alone.

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