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Why is Proper Handwashing Important?

To ward off the flu, public health experts recommend that people lather and rub their hands together for at least 20 seconds.
Handwashing can help prevent the spread of bacteria, like Salmonella.
Kids who wash their hands at least four times a day have fewer illnesses.
A woman washing her hands.
Frequent hand washing may help prevent the spread of germs.
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  • Written By: O. Wallace
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 06 September 2014
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Chances are you don’t wash your hands as much as you should. The facts are scary: there are 52 million cases of the common cold each year in the United States, and more than 250 types of food borne illnesses. Ten to 20 percent of Americans are infected with the flu virus each year. Dogs have more than 100 different germs in their saliva. Statistics show that you’ve come in contact with at least one of these germs today. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued strong advisories on the importance of practicing regular, proper handwashing.

Proper handwashing is our first line of defense against germs such as the common cold, hepatitis A, meningitis, influenza and diarrhea-causing viruses. If you consider how many times you use the restroom and how many surfaces you come in contact with each day, your opportunities to pick up a nasty bug are endless. This, coupled with the fact that we touch our mouths, noses and eyes, all entry points for viruses and bacteria, on a regular basis, is a recipe for illness.

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A defensive strategy is important when trying to avoid infecting oneself with an illness lying in wait. A staggering one out of three Americans skips handwashing after going to the bathroom. Only 30% of people who have coughed or sneezed into their hands wash their hands afterwards. Kids are even worse: in a survey of junior high and high school boys and girls, only 58% of girls and 48% of boys wash up after using the restroom.

Not only is proper handwashing good just for cleanliness’ sake; it can also save your life. The CDC released a report showing that proper handwashing nearly halved the incidence of pneumonia-related infections in children under five worldwide. Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under five globally, so the fact that something as simple as proper handwashing can have such a staggering impact is important. Proper handwashing has also been shown in other studies to be responsible for a 47% reduction in impetigo, a highly contagious viral skin infection that can have devastating effects if it progresses to severe dehydration.

Not many people realize that the human influenza virus can survive on surfaces for a surprising two to eight hours, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, a recent FDA study reveals that proper handwashing can stop up to one half of all food borne illnesses, such as E.coli and salmonella. The statistics speak for themselves: kids who wash their hands at least four times a day experience 24% fewer sick days from colds, flu and the like, and 51% fewer sick days due to stomach ailments. It is important for parents to teach proper handwashing to their children, as well as to practice it themselves.

Proper handwashing begins with warm water and soap. The debate continues to rage over which is best: antibacterial or regular soap. Experts say that, while antibacterial soap has its usefulness, regular soap will do the trick just as well. 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 ABCs to keep your child washing for the correct amount of time.

Remember to wash the tops of your hands, as well as your fingers and nails. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and dry well. In a pinch, when no sink is available, there are a number of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers that will make do until you can reach a sink.

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anon114146
Post 2

If you want to make the point that killing those illnesses with soap is going to keep you safer, go ahead.

But to say it will "help maintain a strong immune system" is incorrect. It may protect you from viruses, bacteria, etc. but there is no medical evidence to my knowledge supporting that your actual "immune system" will get stronger as a result of using soap.

To say that the immune system will have an easier time functioning may be correct.

I have also heard that too much obsessive hand washing will make you too germ free, and thus your immune system will get used to not having much work to do, the same way your arms would get flabby if you never lifted anything. All the muscles, nerves, etc. in the body must be used occasionally to promote good health, and this undoubtedly includes the immune system.

I've even heard that a lot of illnesses were more easily beatable 100 years ago when our immune systems were stronger because we weren't trying to live in a sterile world. But I'm not saying you have to roll around in the mud with pigs or anything, I'm just saying don't try too hard.

And always be sanitary in the cases where it counts the most or if someone around you is sick.

obsessedwithloopy
Post 1

The sturdy little germs like bacteria and viruses that cause a number of illnesses, like flu, gastroenteritis and others are best kept at bay by a good hand wash with soap and water.

So frequent hand washing, particularly before meals and after bathroom visits will help keep maintain a strong immune system.

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