EHSO home page - Free Environmental Health & Safety information, guidance and downloads of regulations and manuals online for home or EHS professional.

Environment, Health and Safety Online

The site for free, objective information you can use! 

Free information for the general public and  EHS professionals

 

Search the site

Feedback

Acronyms

Services

Who are we?  - How to get helpFAQs  -  Quick links: Today's Federal Register  - Contact Info: EPA  - State agencies - OSHA - DOT   Regs: Search Government regs and sites

Washing Your Hands - How and Why it Is Important for Your Health

What happens if you do not wash your hands frequently?

bulletOverview
bulletHistory lesson
bulletAt Home - why and how to wash hands
bulletCDC Recommendations
bulletWeird facts and Research Findings 
bulletLinks to Other Sites and Free Publications

Overview

You pick up germs from other sources and then you infect yourself when you  


What is the correct way to wash your hands?

It is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom. So these tips are also important when you are out in public.

Washing your hands regularly can certainly save a lot on medical bills. Because it costs less than a penny, you could say that this penny's worth of prevention can save you a $50 visit to the doctor.

A History Lesson - Anecdotal Story

Remember Ignaz Semmelweis? Of course you don't. But you're in his debt nonetheless, because it was Dr. Semmelweis who first demonstrated over a hundred years ago that routine handwashing can prevent the spread of disease.

"Dr. Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna whose maternity patients were dying at such an alarming rate that they begged to be sent home," said Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of CDC's Hospital Infections Program. "Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward."

Because the students didn't wash their hands between touching the dead and the living--handwashing was an unrecognized hygienic practice at the time--pathogenic bacteria from the cadavers regularly were transmitted to the mothers via the students' hands.

"The result was a death rate five times higher for mothers who delivered in the hospital than for mothers who delivered at home" said Dr. Gerberding.

In an experiment considered quaint at best by his colleagues, Dr. Semmelweis insisted that his students wash their hands before treating the mothRemember Ignaz Semmelweis? Of course you don't. But you're in his debt nonetheless, because it was Dr. Semmelweis who first demonstrated over a hundred years ago that routine handwashing can prevent the spread of disease.

"Dr. Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna whose maternity patients were dying at such an alarming rate that they begged to be sent home," said Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of CDC's Hospital Infections Program. "Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward."

Because the students didn't wash their hands between touching the dead and the living--handwashing was an unrecognized hygienic practice at the time--pathogenic bacteria from the cadavers regularly were transmitted to the mothers via the students' hands.

"The result was a death rate five times higher for mothers who delivered in the hospital than for mothers who delivered at home" said Dr. Gerberding.

In an experiment considered quaint at best by his colleagues, Dr. Semmelweis insisted that his students wash their hands before treating the mothers--and deaths on the maternity ward fell fivefold.

"This was the beginning of infection control," Dr. Gerberding said. "It was really a landmark achievement, not just in healthcare settings, but in public health in general because today the value of handwashing in preventing disease is recognized in the community, in schools, iRemember Ignaz Semmelweis? Of course you don't. But you're in his debt nonetheless, because it was Dr. Semmelweis who first demonstrated over a hundred years ago that routine handwashing can prevent the spread of disease.

"Dr. Semmelweis worked in a hospital in Vienna whose maternity patients were dying at such an alarming rate that they begged to be sent home," said Julie Gerberding, M.D., director of CDC's Hospital Infections Program. "Most of those dying had been treated by student physicians who worked on cadavers during an anatomy class before beginning their rounds in the maternity ward."

Because the students didn't wash their hands between touching the dead and the living--handwashing was an unrecognized hygienic practice at the time--pathogenic bacteria from the cadavers regularly were transmitted to the mothers via the students' hands.

"The result was a death rate five times higher for mothers who delivered in the hospital than for mothers who delivered at home" said Dr. Gerberding.

In an experiment considered quaint at best by his colleagues, Dr. Semmelweis insisted that his students wash their hands before treating the mothers--and deaths on the maternity ward fell fivefold.

"This was the beginning of infection control," Dr. Gerberding said. "It was really a landmark achievement, not just in healthcare settings, but in public health in general because today the value of handwashing in preventing disease is recognized in the community, in schools, in child care settings, and in eating establishments."

Healthcare specialists generally cite handwashing as the single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease. "This is one healthcare infection control measure that has successfully spread throughout the community," she said. "Good hygiene in general, and sterilization and disinfection in particular, are other standards that began largely in hospitals and have become widely used elsewhere. And we're always looking for others."

She cited the ongoing 4th Decennial International Conference on Nosocomial and Healthcare-associated Infections in Atlanta as an example of the concerted effort worldwide to prevent and control infections. Sponsored by CDC, the conference has brought together over 2,000 international experts in disease prevention to share information and develop strategies for infection control.

"It's an astonishing amount of knowledge and expertise gathered in a single building," she said. "But for all our expertise and the tremendous advances we've made in technology and new treatments, we constantly remind ourselves of the basic in infection control...wash your hands!" 3>"The basic rule in the hospital is wash your hands between patients," said Dr. Gerberding. "In the home, it's wash them before preparing food, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom."

Unquestioned today as the most important tool in the healthcare worker's arsenal for preventing infection, handwashing was not readily accepted in Dr. Semmelweis's era. Indeed, his pleas to make handwashing a routine practice throughout the hospital were largely met with derision. Another 50 years would pass before the importance of handwashing as a preventive measure would be widely accepted by the medical profession.

&Remedies
Handwashing is key. Diarrheal outbreaks could be cut in half by requiring staff to wash their hands -- and the child's hands -- after changing diapers.


CDC recommendations their findings:


Handwashing is key. Diarrheal outbreaks could be cut in half by requiring staff to wash their hands -- and the child's hands -- after changing diapers.

CDC recommendations before leaving for the day.

The students' sick days for a 37-day period were compared to eight other classrooms that did not have scheduled handwashing. Although the handwashing reduced sick days, it had no effect on visits to the doctor, prescription or OTC drug use, or parents' loss of time at work. Infected infant to hands to other children:- 1992) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, of 2874 outbreaks, contributing factors were reported in 1435 and that poor personal hygiene was a contributing factor in over a third (514) of them.

Nancy H. Bean et al., Journal of Food Protection, Vol. 60, No. 10, 1997; 1265-1286:


Facts and Research Findings

Wirthlin Worldwide, an international research firm, conducted a Handwashing Observational and Telephone Survey in August 1996 for the Bayer Corporation Pharmaceutical Division, in association with the American Society for Microbiology. Among their findings:

State and Local Government Web Sites