Skip to content
Region 7 Public Health Office
Living Healthier Links

Handwashing

Your mother was right to ask, "Have you washed your hands?" It's a proven fact .... frequent handwashing provides the easiest and most effective protection from the spread of infectious diseases, including the common cold. But in spite of the evidence, in spite of how simple it is, only about 2/3 of all Americans wash their hands after using a public restroom.

We can't see bacteria and viruses, but they're everywhere. Some are spread by insects and other animals. Others are spread by direct contact with blood or by respiratory contact with someone who is infected. But, some of the most common germs that make millions of people sick every year are those that are spread by the oral-fecal transmission route. This happens when a person's hands or another object come into contact with tiny pieces of stool, especially when changing diapers after a bowel movement. The germs then are passed in all sorts of ways and ultimately find their way into someone's mouth. Just think of all the hands that touch the same money, or doorknobs, or toys. Then think about how many times you've touched those objects and then had your fingers in your mouth. See how easy it is for germs to spread?

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 76 million people get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 Americans die each year from food borne illness. And what about all those cases of diarrhea among kids in daycare? Many of these illnesses can be prevented by more frequent handwashing. The spread of E. Coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Giardia, Hepatitis A, even the common cold can all be reduced if we all practice better, and more frequent, hand washing.

The Ten Most Common Causes of InfectionAmong the benefits enjoyed when people make frequent handwashing a habit are:

  • Fewer food borne illnesses such as salmonella and E. Coli
  • Fewer diarrheal illnesses such as shigella, giardia and cryptosporidium
  • Fewer colds
  • Reduced risk of getting serious diseases such as rotovirus, hepatitis A and bacterial meningitis
  • Reduced spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria

There are many times during the day when we should wash our hands, but maybe don't know that we should. Here are some of the most common times when you should make handwashing a habit:

  • Before you eat
  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • After you go to the bathroom
  • After changing a diaper
  • After petting any type of animal, including dogs and cats
  • After you cough or sneeze
  • After visiting or caring for someone who is sick or injured
  • After handling garbage

Many people wash their hands, and think they are doing a good job. But, as basic as it may seem, there are some steps to follow to be sure you are being as effective as possible whenever possible:

  • Use warm, running water
  • Use soap. Antibacterial soap is good, but any soap is better than none
  • Rub your soapy hands together for 10 - 15 seconds, about as long as it takes to sing the ABC's. It is the soap and the rubbing combined that helps remove germs
  • Be sure to wash the backs of your hands, between the fingers and under the fingernails
  • Rinse your soapy hands with clean, warm water
  • Pat dry with a clean paper towel
  • Use the paper towel to turn off the water faucet and then throw the paper towel away

Printable Handwashing Posters (pdf)

hand poster cold
hand poster diahrrhea
hand poster infection
hand poster spanish