Question of the Week

September 17, 2007


Most people know that they are supposed to wash their hands to help prevent the spread of disease, but not everyone does it.

"In a telephone poll of 1,001 people, about 92 percent professed to wash their hands whenever they used a public restroom. But when observers discreetly recorded the behavior of 6,076 men and women in high-volume washrooms around the country, only 77 percent actually did it. And that's down from 83 percent who washed up in 2005."
Baltimore Sun

While a higher percentage of people know what they "should" say when asked if they wash their hands, fewer actually do what they "should" do. This could lead some to believe that, while most people know that hand washing is important, they don't understand why it is important for them.

"Hand washing is a key tool in fending off germs, experts say. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers it the single most effective step in preventing the spread of ailments ranging from colds and flu to a host of nasty gastrointestinal bugs. 'It's the number one public health tool around today,' said Kellogg J. Schwab, an associate professor of environmental health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Noroviruses alone, which cause nasty bouts of nausea, vomiting and stomach distress, infect 23 million people in the United States each year, and much of their damage could be prevented by hand washing."
Baltimore Sun

"[M]uch of their damage could be prevented by hand washing."

"This is the same illness that's been linked to hundreds of people at one time, becoming sick on cruise ships. It spreads incredibly quickly. At New Trier, all 120 people affected became sick over the past five days. ... It all started Monday when two students here at the Winnetka high school became sick. By Friday, 120 young people and teachers were battling what the Cook County Department of Public Health suspects is the Norovirus."
CBS Chicago

Even without an outbreak of Norovirus, schools across the country are seeing students and teachers out sick these first few weeks as they are once again back together in the classrooms and sharing whatever germs they picked up over the summer.

"Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds. However, if soap and clean water are not available, use an alcohol-based product to clean your hands. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting."

Simply keeping hands clean can help improve your own health, and the health of others.

"Hand washing is a simple habit -- one that requires minimal training and no special equipment. Yet it's one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. ... Good hand-washing techniques include washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Antimicrobial wipes or towelettes are just as effective as soap and water in cleaning your hands but aren't as good as alcohol-based sanitizers. Antibacterial soaps have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, these soaps are no more effective at killing germs than are regular soap and water. 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. In general, regular soap is fine. The combination of scrubbing your hands with soap -- antibacterial or not -- and rinsing them with water loosens and removes bacteria from your hands."

Hand washing reminders:

"When washing hands with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water and apply soap. Use warm water if it is available.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.
  • Continue rubbing hands for 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing 'Happy Birthday' twice through to a friend!
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet"

"Remember: If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based gel to clean hands. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Apply product to the palm of one hand
  • Rub hands together
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of hands and fingers until hands are dry."

Questions of the Week:
Why do you think that some people wash their hands more frequently than others? What do your peers and family members need to know about health, hygiene, and hand washing? What do you think would be the best way to educate people in order to help them understand not only that hand washing is important, but why it is important for their personal health and the health of those around them?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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