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

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

What happens if you do not wash your hands frequently?

Overview

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

  • Touch your eyes ling animals or animal waste,
  • When your hands are dirty, and
  • More frequently when someone in your home is sick.


What is the correct way to wash your hands?

  • First wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain.
  • Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue for 10 - 15 seconds or about the length of a little tune. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
  • Rinse well and dry 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:

  • People do not wash their hands as often as they think they do. Wirthlin's telephone survey found that 94% of respondents (1004 adults) claimed they always wash up after using the restroom. The observational survey viewed 6333 adults in public restrooms in New York, Chicago, Atla germs are transmitted from unclean hands to food, usually by an infected food preparer who didn't handwash after using the toilet. The germs are then passed to those who eat the food.

    Infected infant to hands to other children:found that people are most likely to say they wash their hands after changing a diaper (78%) and before handling or eating food (81%). Questioned about other activities, far fewer said they washed their hands after petting an animal (48%), coughing or sneezing (33%), or handling money (22%).


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:

  • Plain hand soaps, antimicrobial hand soaps, E2 rated hand soaps (a USDA Classification requiring equivalency to 50 parts per million chlorine), and instant hand sanitizers were evaluated for their effectiveness in reducing bacteria on hands. Results showed that all three types of hand soaps were effective, when using a 20-second wash procedure, in reducing bacteria on hands, with the E2 soaps significantly more effective than the other two types of soa germs from uncooked foods are transferred to hands and then to infants. If a parent handling raw chicken, for example, doesn't wash his or her hands before tending to an infant, they could transfer germs such as salmonella from the food to the infant.

    Handwashing can prevent the transfer of germs in all five of these scenarios. CDC recommends vigorous scrubbing with warm, soapy water for at least 15 seconds.


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:

  • People do not wash their hands as often as they think they do. Wirthlin's telephone survey found that 94% of respondents (1004 adults) claimed they always wash up after using the restroom. The observational survey viewed 6333 adults in public restrooms in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans and San Francisco (3236 males and 3097 females) and found that only 68%, in fact, did so.

State and Local Government Web Sites

  • Good Health Insurance: Handwashing (DepartmFor more information call Barbara Hyde or Jim Sliwa at ASM, (202) 942-9206; or Don Hyman of Bayer Pharmaceutical Division, (203) 812-6545.
  • A study of 305 Detroit school children found that youngsters who washed their hands four times a day had 24% fewer sick days due to respiratory illness, and 51% fewer days lost because of stomach upset. Under the supervision of Dr. Susan Longe (then at Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Southfield, MI) teachers in six classrooms had children wash their hands on arrival, before lunch, after recess, and 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.