Washing hands a critical part of sickness and disease prevention

Hand washing was not considered to be an important part of health until 1846, when a Hungarian doctor noticed at his hospital there was a much higher death rate in the physician-run maternity ward compared to the maternity ward run by midwives. After exploring many theories, he realized the difference was that the doctors did things such as autopsies, then delivered babies, while the midwives did not. No one washed hands or instruments as a common practice at the time. So, he instructed the doctors to wash their hands and instruments, and the death rate went down.

Germs and harmful chemicals can get on our hands every day by simply touching things, then can live for up to many hours. Studies have shown that people can touch their eyes, nose and mouth about 25 times every hour without noticing their own behavior, which could lead to all kinds of bacteria-related illnesses if it weren’t for proper cleaning and hygiene such as hand washing.

Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to stay healthy, avoid getting sick and prevent spreading germs to others.

Hand hygiene is easy. Get your hands completely clean by following these simple steps: Wet your hands; apply soap and lather; scrub your hands (even the backs of your hands, between your fingers and underneath your fingernails); and rinse and dry your hands using a dry, clean cloth or paper towel or an electric or air hand dryer. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.

Dry hands thoroughly since wet hands can pick up and transfer more contamination than dry hands. Avoid contact with contaminated surfaces such as the sink, faucet handles, towel dispenser cranks or levers that can result in cross-contamination. Use a paper towel to pull open the exit door handle from the public restroom.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer should be viewed as an addition to hand washing and drying, not a replacement. Hands must be clean and free of grease and grime for instant hand sanitizer to work properly. Instant hand sanitizer can be used if there is no visible soil to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. However, this sanitizer can be harsh and cause excessive dryness to your hands.

When Should You Wash Your Hands? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends:

·Before preparing or eating food;

· After going to the restroom;

·After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the restroom;

·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.

What will happen to you if you don’t wash your hands? Here are some other consequences to consider:

– You could infect someone with a compromised immune system without hand washing. Those with compromised immune systems, such as infants and the elderly, can’t fight off diseases the same way most others can.

– You might expose yourself to food poisoning without hand washing. Most foodborne illnesses are spread by people touching contaminated foods and not properly sanitizing afterward.

– You could be at a greater risk for contracting Hepatitis A without hand washing.  It can lead to fever, jaundice, nausea, and possibly death. Last year, there was an outbreak in San Diego County that began right here in East County, which killed hundreds of local homeless residents and several others.

– On average, about 30 percent of diarrhea-related illnesses can be prevented just by washing your hands.

– Even if you wash your hands often, remember to use handwipes when possible at the grocery store and in other public places where many other people have handled the shopping cart or object(s) you are touching. Many grocery stores should have free sanitizing hand wipes available. If the container is empty, ask for an employee to fill it, or, have some of your own with you.

– Remember that illness has a big price tag. It can range from the over the counter items such as tissues, soups, fruit juices, pain relievers, cough medications, work sick calls, doctor visits, urgent care and clinic trips to the costliest stays in the hospital.

A little soap and water goes a long way, and in some cases, like with the flu or Hep A, it can save lives.