The first week in December is dedicated as National Handwashing Awareness week. While it might seem a bit funny to dedicate an awareness week to such a common, everyday practice, the importance of washing your hands regularly really cannot be understated. With cold and flu season upon us, it’s one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself.
How Germs are Spread.
We know that viruses and bacteria are what make us sick, but how do they get into our bodies? One of the primary modes of germ “transportation” is also the most simple: Sick people sneeze, cough, blow their noses, and so on. With germs now transferred to their hands, they touch surfaces like door knobs, light switches, handrails, counter tops, money, shopping cart handles, gas pump handles, and so on.
Then, you touch those surfaces and pick up the virus or bacteria. From there, the germs are introduced into your body when you touch your nose, mouth, or eyes, or when you eat. You might be surprised at how often most people touch their faces, because it’s a common and unconscious reflex.
The same mode of transportation can occur when we handle raw meat and forget to wash our hands, or after using the bathroom. In fact, many food-borne illnesses are not contracted from actually eating the infected foods, but from touching things that were previously handled by those in charge of food preparation.
As we all know, young children are the worst about touching everything in sight, or even putting objects in their mouths! If you have grandchildren or are frequently around kids, regular hand washing becomes even more important.
How Effective is Hand Washing?
According to the CDC, regular hand washing can reduce diarrhea-type illnesses by about 30 percent, and the common cold by about 20 percent. Other methods of illness prevention, such as a healthy diet, are also important. However, regular hand washing remains the easiest and most effective preventative for common illnesses.
Another thing to remember is that even if you’re a dedicated hand washer, other people might not practice the same level of hygiene. So, be extra cautious this winter, when venturing out into public spaces. Take a moment to wipe down shopping cart handles, avoid touching door handles with your bare hands, and be mindful of how often you touch your face.
Finally, if you do experience symptoms of a cold or flu, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor. Early treatment of many common illnesses can shorten their duration, and keep you more comfortable in the meantime.