Hand-Washing for Illness Prevention 
Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center Hospital 
Friday, 25 September 2009 
 
 

Why hand-washing?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, hand washing is one of the most effective tools to battle infectious diseases. This includes colds and influenza, which are spread by viruses as well as some caused by bacteria, fungi and parasites.

Correct hand washing may help reduce the spread of colds, flu and infectious diarrhea. We also may stop the spread of antibiotic-resistance germs and serious, potentially life-threatening diseases like hepatitis. This is because most germs are transferred by hand-to-hand contact. A sick person coughs, sneezes or blows his nose. You shake hands and then rub your eyes, nose or mouth. The germs from the sick person’s hands enter your body and start replicating. Before you know it, people all around have the same illness.

When should you wash?
You should wash your hands before preparing or eating food, treating a cut and tending to someone who is sick. If you wear contact lenses, always wash your hands before inserting or removing a lens. You also should wash up after:

  • Going to the bathroom
  • Handling uncooked foods, especially raw meats, poultry and fish
  • Changing a diaper
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • Handling garbage
  • Tending to someone who is sick or injured
  • Handling an animal or animal waste

How should you wash?
How you wash is just as important as when, but you don’t need antibacterial soaps for effective cleaning. The CDC recommends using liquid soap since bar soaps can harbor germs. Water temperature is less important than technique.

First, wet your hands and apply the soap. Vigorously rub your hands together for 10 to 15 seconds, making sure that you clean between your fingers plus the front and back of your hands including wrists and under fingernails. You might consider a trick taught to young children and recite the alphabet while washing your hands to ensure spending enough time. Rinse well and dry your hands using a clean towel, paper towel or air dryer. To prevent dry skin, pat rather than rub the skin when drying and use lotion.

While alcohol-based hand sanitizers are convenient, especially when soap and water aren’t available, you should avoid using them with young children. These liquids contain a high concentration of alcohol that children may accidentally ingest.

To learn more about hand washing, visit the American Society for Microbiology’s Clean Hands Campaign website at www.washup.org