Clean hands save lives

September 19, 2007|By LYNN LITTLE

Join the Clean Hands Coalition and celebrate Clean Hands Week this week. Washing your hands is is the single most important act you can do to prevent getting sick and making others sick. Handwashing reduces the spread of germs and is important for food safety, disease prevention and personal health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to 2 hours or more on surfaces such as cafeteria tables, doorknobs and desks. A study of Detroit schoolchildren showed that scheduled hand washing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50 percent.

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 act fast and significantly reduce the number of germs on skin.


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. 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.

· Be certain to read the product label for recommended use of hand sanitizers.

You should wash your hands at the following times:

· Before preparing or eating food.

· After going to the bathroom.

· After changing diapers or cleaning a child who has gone to the bathroom.

· Before and after tending to someone who is sick.

· After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

· After handling an animal or animal waste.

· After handling garbage.

· Before and after treating a cut or wound.

Practice washing your hands, make it a habit and prevent illness and death. For more information regarding hygiene, visit the following Web sites:,, and

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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