National Handwashing Awareness Week is recognized from Dec. 5-11 this year, but the importance of cleanliness and good hygiene is something to keep in mind every day throughout the new year and beyond.
Here are just four of the top reasons to wash your hands regularly:
- It prevents illness and the spread of germs: According to the CDC, just one gram of human feces can contain 1 trillion germs, including diarrhea-causing norovirus, Salmonella, and E. coli, as well as others that lead to respiratory infections like adenovirus. Coughs and sneezes are also primary carriers that can easily contaminate objects like doorknobs and keyboards. These germs are then passed from person to person whenever we don’t wash our hands after using the restroom or handling contaminated food or objects. When you wash your hands regularly, you significantly reduce your risk for illness – and everyone else’s to boot.
- It protects children around the globe. The CDC also cites diarrheal diseases and pneumonia as the leading killers of children under the age of 5 around the globe. The simple act of washing hands could protect 1 out of 3 children who become ill with diarrhea and approximately 1 out of 5 children with pneumonia worldwide. Raising awareness and increasing global access to soap and water can help to protect more vulnerable populations.
- It helps to thwart antibiotic resistance. Fewer illnesses mean fewer antibiotics prescribed overall (and often unnecessarily), which in turn significantly reduces the risk of rising antibiotic resistance. Resistance stems from antibiotic overuse. Prescriptions are often filled when they are not actually required (i.e., for viruses that they cannot affect rather than bacterial infections, which they can). This allows germs to mutate and evade established defenses. When you wash your hands, you are also protecting yourself and others from getting ill from germs that are already resistant to regular treatment.
- It’s easy. Washing your hands doesn’t take long, and the Return on Investment for the 20 seconds it requires has long-reaching benefits. Be sure to use clean, running water, and lather your hands thoroughly with soap – including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and your fingernails. Not sure how long is long enough? Sing the “Happy Birthday” song. Twice. Rinse well, then dry – and repeat throughout the day as necessary.
Be sure to wash your hands regularly – and particularly when engaging in the following activities.
- Before and after food preparation
- Before and after eating
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- After using the restroom
- After changing a diaper or helping a child clean up after using the restroom
- After working or playing outside
- After engaging with family pets and other animals (playtime, mealtime, bath time, etc.)
- After handling the trash and/or garbage
- After using shared public amenities (gas pumps, ATMs, etc.)
- When caring for someone who is ill
The act of washing our hands took on new meaning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but maintaining good personal hygiene has always been a critical component of avoiding germs and staying healthy. As we navigate flu season and RSV outbreaks and continue to contend with COVID, soap and water remain one of our most important allies. Rinse, repeat, and be well this holiday season.