Washing hands seems like such a simple act, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says handwashing is the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others.
And in developing countries, handwashing with soap is the most effective and inexpensive way to prevent diarrheal and acute respiratory infections, which take the lives of millions of children every year.
Yet, despite its lifesaving potential, in most parts of the world, handwashing with soap is seldom practiced. The United Nations has designated Oct. 15 as Global Handwashing Day to raise awareness around the world of the importance of washing hands with soap to prevent disease.
Scientists estimate that up to 80 percent of all infections are spread by hands. Infectious diseases, colds, flu, and foodborne illness can all be greatly reduced with proper handwashing.
The simple act of washing hands, or using a hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available, is the best defense for keeping germs from getting into our bodies.
From doorknobs to animals to food, harmful germs can live on almost any surface. Think about the surfaces you touch in running a single errand -- opening doors, pushing a shopping cart, putting your signature on a credit card purchase, pumping gas, as well as the items in the store which may have been handled numerous times.
Hands need to be washed before preparing food and after handling uncooked meat and poultry, before eating, after changing a diaper, after coughing, sneezing or blowing one's nose into a tissue, and after using the bathroom.
It is also important to wash hands before caring for young children, after touching animals, when someone around you is ill, before and after treating a cut or wound, and after touching a public surface.
What is the correct way to wash your hands?
* Wet hands with warm running water before reaching for soap, either in bar or liquid form.
* Rub hands together to make a lather. Do this away from running water, so the lather isn't washed away.
* Wash the front and back of hands, between fingers, under nails, and on the wrists. Continue rubbing for 15 seconds or more. Fifteen seconds is longer than you might think. When we teach handwashing to children, we tell them to sing "Happy Birthday" twice or the "ABC Song" once.
* Rinse hands well under warm running water.
* Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. In a public place, it's a good idea to also use a paper towel to open the restroom door.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers or gels or antibacterial wipes are useful alternatives if soap and water are not available, such as when snacking in the car, during a shopping trip, or at an outdoor event. But sanitizers don't remove soil and other materials on hands.
For hands that are visibly dirty, soap and water are needed. When using an alcohol based hand sanitizer, rub the product over all surfaces of the hands and fingers until hands are dry.
Cold and flu season is coming, so be sure you and your family are washing your hands well and often.
For more information on health and wellness topics, please contact me or your local Southwind Extension District office.