The simple act of wetting your hands and rubbing soap on them is the cheapest and most effective disease prevention mechanism. Each day every person comes in contact with a countless number of surfaces which are all contaminated with some sort of germ. To makes matters worse, the average person touches his or her face 3.6 times per hour, (Rowan, 2012) which is equal to 43.2 touches per 12 hours. Without proper hand washing habits, all of the germs, bacteria, and other natural and synthetic contaminants that we pick up in our daily life will make their way onto our faces and into our body, putting our immune system to the test; and to other people that we come in contact with. The potential consequences for adults that work in childcare are greater because of the weak immune system of those children that they are charged with caring for. With hand-washing, there are three main questions: Why do we need to wash our hands? , When do we need to wash our hands? , and How are we supposed to wash our hands?.
The answer to the question -“Why do we need to wash our hands?”- seems obvious and it is. Keeping ones hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading our germs to others. One of the most important sources of the dangerous germs on our hands come from feces, both from people and animals. Some of the contaminants that can be found in feces are Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus that cause diarrhea; they also have the potential to spread some respiratory infections such as adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. Along with spreading our contaminants to other people, unwashed hands can transfer germs to foods and drinks while they are being prepared or consumed. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, and if the conditions are right they can make people sick. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, 2013)
As stated before we touch a countless number of germ infested objects each day, but it is impractical to wash your hands after every encounter. The Mayo Clinic gives us the following guidelines. Always wash your hands before: preparing or eating food, giving first aid, caring for a sick person, and whenever changing your contact lenses. Always wash your hands after: preparing food (especially raw meat or poultry), using the toilet, changing a diaper, touching an animal or pet, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, giving first aids, caring for a sick person, handling garbage, and handling household or garden chemicals. (Mayo Clininc Staff, 2011)
Now that we have discussed the why and the when, we can get to physically washing our hands. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has an easy 5 step procedure. The first step is to wet your hands with clean running water. After your hands are wet, apply soap, both solid and liquid soaps are acceptable. The next step is to lather your hands by rubbing them together, the friction lifts dirt and other contaminates from your skin. Don’t forget to get your knuckles and fingernails. Scrub your hands for 20 seconds at a minimum, a helpful tool is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. After scrubbing, rinse your hands well under clean, running water; and then dry your hands with a clean towel or you can let them air dry. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2, 2013) Considering the above guidelines for when to wash your hands, there may not be the resources needed to wash your hands properly. If you are unable to wash your hands, then the use of an alcohol based sanitizer (>60% alcohol) is a good alternative. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 3, 2011)
In conclusion, “Handwashing is like a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 4, 2013) Proper hand washing will greatly reduce the number of dangerous pathogens and contaminants that would otherwise wreak havoc on your body, and of the bodies of those around you. Each time we touch our face (43 times per day) Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus particles that you pick up whenever you prepare food or use the bathroom are being deposited near your eyes and mouth. Luckily the contamination can be contained by following the CDC’s 5 easy steps: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse, and Dry.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1. (2013, December 11). Show Me the Science - Why Wash Your Hands? Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention : http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2. (2013, December 18). Show Me the Science - How to Wash Your Hands. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention 3. (2011, December 11). Show Me the Science - When to Use Hand Sanitizer. Retrieved from Center for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 4. (2013, December 16). Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives. Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html
- Mayo Clininc Staff. (2011, October 15). Hand-washing: Do's and don'ts. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic : http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/hand-washing/art-20046253
- Rowan, K. (2012, November 27). Quit touching your face, flu researchers say. Retrieved from Today Health: http://www.today.com/health/quit-touching-your-face-flu-researchers-say-1C7284851