Monday, March 20, 2006

Wash your hands

Seriously. Change the world by washing your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Most of us probably do this, but those that don't can ruin it for everyone else (you know who you are).

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, "Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection."

For more, here's a clip from the CNN Health Library:

"Throughout the day you accumulate germs on your hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods, even animals and animal waste. If you don't wash your hands frequently enough, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. And you can spread these germs to others by touching them or by touching surfaces that they also touch, such as doorknobs.

"Infectious diseases commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea. While most people will get over a cold, the flu is much more serious. Some people with the flu, particularly older adults and people with chronic medical problems, can develop pneumonia. The combination of the flu and pneumonia, in fact, is the seventh leading cause of death among Americans.

"Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 76 million Americans contract a food-borne illness each year. Of these, about 5,000 die as a result of their illness. Others experience the annoying symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea."

A couple of related notes
"U.S. Navy recruits who were ordered to wash their hands at least five times a day saw a decrease in respiratory illnesses of 45% from the year before, according to a study conducted by the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC)." (From

Anti-bacterial soaps are all hype. In fact, they may be making things worse: "Using these soaps may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the products' antimicrobial agents — making it even harder to kill these germs in the future." Plus, "75% of liquid hand soaps sold in the United States contain triclosan, a registered pesticide by the EPA" (From

Time commitment? An extra minute a day. Maybe.
Cost? Maybe a couple pennies a day in extra soap usage. You may actually save money if you currently use the antibacterial variety and switch to the regular kind.
Impact? Decrease your own risk of getting sick and reduce the risk of spreading germs. The costs to society of preventable sickness are huge, including out-of-pocket expenses, sick days, loss of productivity, redirection of resources away from more serious conditions, higher health insurance premiums, and more. So wash your hands to change your world.


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