Today Is Global Handwashing Day! Just A Few Simple Steps Can Help Prevent Sickness

While thoroughly washing one’s hands has long been a key tenet of good hygiene, the practice has taken on increased urgency since COVID-19 began spreading worldwide. Global Handwashing Day, October 15, is a way to emphasize the urgency of this simple but critical action, which can prevent 1 in 3 cases of diarrhea and 1 in 5 respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these suggestions for optimal handwashing effectiveness:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
  • If you don’t have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. If you don’t have hand sanitizer or soap, but do have water, rub your hands together under the water and dry them with a clean towel or air dry. Rubbing your hands under water will rinse some germs from your hands, even though it’s not as effective as washing with soap.
  • Baby wipes may make your hands look clean, but they are not designed to remove germs from your hands.

According to the CDC, handwashing education in the community can:

  • Reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by about 23–40%
  • Reduce absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29–57%
  • Reduce diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by about 58%
  • Reduce respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by about 16–21%
  • When should people wash their hands? The CDC counsels the following:
    • Before, during, and after preparing food
    • Before eating
    • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
    • Before and after treating a cut or wound
    • After using the toilet
    • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
    • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
    • After handling pet food or pet treats
    • After touching garbage
    • If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
    • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing – you should immediately clean your hands by either washing them with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
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