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Handwashing Helps Prevent Illness

Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. However, if soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting.

When washing hands with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing "Happy Birthday" twice through to a friend!
  • Rinse hands well under running water
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet

Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands.

When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand
  • Rub hands together
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
  • Before and after tending to someone who is sick
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After handling an animal or animal waste
  • After handling garbage
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound

from the Centers for Disease Control

Clean Hands Statistics

The single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands!

Here are the reasons why . . .

Germs are S-p-r-e-a-d-i-n-g!

  • There are many types of germs (viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi) that cause many types of illnesses - including the common cold or flu, foodborne illness, Lyme disease, hantavirus, or plague. These germs can spread easily from one person to another - and have wide-reaching effects.
  • One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their noses or eyes after touching someone or something that's contaminated with the cold virus (rhinovirus).
    • Nearly 22 million school days are lost annually due to the common cold.
    • More than two-thirds (32 million) of school-aged children (aged 5-17 years) in the United States missed school in the past 12 months due to illness or injury
    • 52.2 million cases of the common cold affect Americans under age 17 each year.
    • About 10 million U.S. adults (ages 18 - 69) were unable to work during 2002 due to health problems
    • Frequent handwashing and not sharing items such as cups, glasses, and utensils with an infected person should decrease the spread of virus to others.
  • Some foodborne illnesses are spread through lack of hand cleaning. In fact, certain strains of E. coli, salmonella, and other bacteria can live on surfaces like cafeteria tables and doorknobs for up to two hours.
  • Rotavirus - a germ that causes gastrointestinal illness - can be transferred from a dry, smooth surface to a clean hand for as long as 20 minutes after the surface has been contaminated.
  • Salmonella infections are responsible for an estimated 1.4 million illnesses each year.

Illnesses Impact Students, Teachers, and Families . . .

  • Infectious disease accounts for millions of lost school days and cost the U.S. $120 billion a year.
  • Diarrhea is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost working time, with about 25 days lost from work or school each year for every 100 Americans.
  • Teacher illness costs time and money - not to mention the negative effects that teacher absences may have on student learning. In fact, teachers can be absent from school more days a year than students. One study found that teacher illness-related absences averaged 5.3 days a year, in contrast to an average of 4.5 days a year for students.
  • More than 160,000 people in the U.S. die yearly from an infectious disease.
  • The 15 leading causes of death in the US for 2006 include influenza and pneumonia.

Who's Washing and Who's Not?

  • Students don't clean their hands often or well enough. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle and high school students washed their hands after using the bathroom. Of these, only 33% of the females and 8% of the males used soap.
  • Adult hand cleaning behaviors also need improvement.In one study, 92% said they always wash their hands in public restrooms, but only 77% were observed doing so.

Education is Important. . .

Hand cleaning and basic hygiene habits are generally learned during early childhood. But people need to be reminded periodically about the importance of clean hands to wash them as often and thoroughly as they should. Research suggests that it is important for hygiene lessons to be repeated during the K-12 school curricula.

Hand Cleaning Helps Control Illness. . .

  • One study involving Detroit school children showed that scheduled handwashing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50%.
  • A case-control study of 6,080 school children showed that those who used classroom-dispensed, instant hand sanitizers at specific times during the day, in addition to normal hand cleaning habits, experienced 20% fewer absences due to illness.
  • A four-week handwashing program for a class of first grade students was associated with fewer absences and prescribed antibiotics than were reported the previous school year.

from the School Network for Absenteeism Prevention

An Ounce of Prevention

Un poquito de prevención