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The Simple Power of Handwashing

Child washing her hands

Disease prevention is a broad subject. There are many factors that can go into fighting against various sicknesses and health issues. Perhaps, the most important and simple measure against a disease you can take is washing your hands. It is an easy task that takes a very short amount of time, but can have a powerful impact your own personal health and the health of those you come in contact with.

People's lives get very busy. We're constantly in a hurry and moving from one activity to another. While on the go, it can seem like too much of a sacrifice to wash your hands after using the bathroom. It's a common habit to run one's hands under water for a few seconds and to call that "cleaning your hands". This couldn't be further from the truth. Not only is a few seconds not a sufficient amount of time to wash your hands, but neglecting to use soap will continue the spread of germs. Simply rinsing hands with water doesn't work because germs like salmonella, E.coli and norovirus can spread from feces to hands causing diarrhea and respiratory infections. These germs can spread not only from using the toilet and changing a diaper, but also through handling raw meat and touching surfaces that germs already inhabit. Washing and drying your hands properly is the most effective way to immediately get rid of these harmful germs.

The right time to wash hands is not exclusive to right after using the bathroom. Germs can spread everywhere. Washing you hands is good habit to develop before, during, and after handling food, after using public transportation, after touching animals, after taking out the garbage, and really anytime hands come in contact with objects or surfaces that will spread a high amount of germs. It might seem excessive but germs spread easily. Even if an object doesn't typically contain a lot of germs, it's possible that someone or something that does came in contact with it.

So what is the proper way for you to wash your hands? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supplies a helpful guide. There are just five easy steps. First, make sure to wet hands with warm water and turn off the faucet to conserve water. Then, lather hands with soap, making sure to get the front of the hand, the back of the hand, fingers, and underneath the nails. Next, scrub hands for 20 seconds. Singing "Happy Birthday" twice to help to ensure your hands are washed for the proper amount of time (Whether you choose to sing out loud or in your head is entirely up to you.) To finish, rinse hands under warm water anddry them with a clean towel or air dry. If using paper towels, shake hands to get excess water off then take just one sheet and fold it in half to dry hands and reduce waste. It's not rocket science. And if people claim they're so busy that they can't take the 30 seconds out of their daily lives to wash and dry their hands properly, then they might need to look into opening up their schedule a bit.

This simple act has a myriad of positive effects on your health. The number of surfaces you can touch during the day is surprising. A child alone can touch and retouch up to 300 surfaces in 30 minutes. While you're busy coming in contact with all these surfaces, you are also touching your face and other parts of your body. Everyone is guilty of it. Whether you realize it or not, your hands are coming to contact with your nose, eyes, ears, and mouth regularly. This is how germs can enter the body.

If everyone made more of a conscious effort to wash their hands properly, at the appropriate times each day, it could greatly reduce the percentage of people who get sick with the common cold and flu each year. Not only does it make you and those you live with healthier, it stops the spread of germs through indirect contact. So next time you use the bathroom take the 30 seconds to sing to yourself and properly wash and dry your hands. Your immune system will thank you in the long run.

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