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Hand Washing

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"Wash your hands!" How many times have you heard that from your parents? You might think they're just nagging you, but actually the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself. You're at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands.

If people don't wash their hands frequently (especially when they're sick), they can spread germs directly to other people or onto surfaces that others touch. And before you know it, everyone around you is coming down with something!

Hand Washing

The First Line of Defense Against Germs

Think about all of the things that you touched today — from the telephone to the toilet. Maybe you blew your nose and played with your dog. Whatever you did, you came into contact with germs. So it's easy for germs on your hand to end up in your mouth (maybe when you scarfed that handful of popcorn with your teammates right after soccer practice).

By frequently washing your hands the right way, you'll wash away germs — such as bacteria and viruses — that you have picked up from other people, through contaminated water and food, from tainted surfaces, or from animals and animal waste.

Defensive Hand Washing

Did you know that an estimated 1 out of 5 people don't wash their hands after using the restroom? In 2005 the American Society for Microbiology did a survey of hand washing. They asked people questions about their hand-washing habits and also watched people in public restrooms.

The results were kind of gross. For example:

hand washing

And even if you're a good hand-washer, your friends may be harboring some dirty little secrets: Students don't wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle- and high-school students washed their hands after using the bathroom. Yuck!

How to Wash Your Hands Correctly

There's a right way to wash your hands. Follow these simple steps to keep your hands clean:

To prevent chapping or dry skin, use a mild soap with warm water, pat rather than rub hands dry, and apply a moisturizing lotion liberally afterward.

When there is no soap or water available, waterless hand soaps or scrubs are a good alternative. They're usually available as a liquid, wipes, or towelettes, and often come in small travel sizes that are perfect for keeping in your book bag, car, locker, purse, or sports bag.

Remember, proper and frequent hand washing is the key to preventing the spread of many common infections. So hum a few verses of "Happy Birthday" and lather up!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: October 2011

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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