Reducing some germ-born illnesses is as simple as washing your hands. It’s an inexpensive, easy, and effective way to avoid catching a cold or the flu, if done correctly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, feces from people or animals is a common source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus. These germs can cause diarrhea and spread some respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. Germs reach hands in both obvious and unobvious ways: after people use the toilet, after changing a diaper, or while handling raw meats.
Germs can also get onto hands if people touch any object (a handrail, table top, toy, etc.) that has germs on it because someone coughed or sneezed on it. When germs from unwashed hands get into some foods and drinks they can multiply under certain conditions.
To help destroy germs and prevent illness, take the time to clean your hands effectively:
- Use soap and water to reduce the number of microbes. Using soap to wash hands is more effective than using water alone because the surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from skin, and people tend to scrub hands more thoroughly when using soap.
- An alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is an acceptable substitute when you don’t have soap and water and when your hands are not visibly dirty or greasy. The CDC says many studies have found that sanitizers with an alcohol concentration between 60–95% are more effective at killing germs than those with a lower alcohol concentration or non-alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Begin by removing any hand or arm jewelry. Wet your hands with warm water. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Do the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. Then scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. Dry your hands using a clean towel.
Handwashing reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea, reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, and reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in school children.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2018, Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives, Retrieved November 29, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html