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CONNECT TO | Health & Wellness
January 2011

Wash your hands
Protect yourself and those around you

Chances are you don't wash your hands as much as you should. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study showed that proper handwashing can stop up to one-half of all food borne illnesses, such as E.coli and salmonella. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that good hand hygiene is the simplest, most effective measure for preventing infections.


Some facts about handwashing:

  • Up to half of all men and a quarter of women fail to wash their hands after they use the bathroom.
  • Only 30 percent of people who have coughed or sneezed into their hands wash their hands afterward.
  • Damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than dry hands.
  • The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet.
  • Germs can stay alive on hands for up to three hours. The human influenza virus can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours, according to the FDA.

Proper handwashing is the first line of defense against germs that cause the common cold, hepatitis A, meningitis, influenza and diarrhea. Statistics show that people come in contact with at least one of these types of germs every day. In addition to the many surfaces we come in contact with each day, people tend to touch their mouths, noses and eyes, all entry points for viruses and bacteria, on a regular basis.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. Just rinsing your hands may get rid of visible dirt, but it will not kill germs. Experts say that while antibacterial soap is useful, regular soap is just as effective. Soap makes the skin slick, causing germs to fall off under running water. The key is to lather up your hands and rub vigorously for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Some suggest singing "Happy Birthday" or the alphabet song to wash for an adequate amount of time.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Hand sanitizers must be rubbed vigorously on the hands for 25 seconds for full benefit. According to the CDC, waterless hand rubs significantly reduce the number of microorganisms on skin, are fast acting and cause less skin irritation than soap. However, sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

There is a right way to wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water, warm or cold, and apply soap.
  • Rub your hands together to make lather and scrub them well, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

Washing your hands can help keep you and your loved ones from getting - and spreading - preventable diseases.

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