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Are Your Hands Making You Sick?

September 3, 2013

Originally published on Dec. 5, 2011

Your hands could hold the clues to the illnesses or symptoms you experience on a daily basis. You may not wash your hands as much as you should in order to avoid spreading diseases or contracting an illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing is important to keeping you from spreading or coming in contact with infectious diseases. Even though many people know the benefits of it, one out of three Americans still skip handwashing after going to the bathroom. In a survey of junior high and high school boys and girls, only 58 percent of girls and 48 percent of boys washed their hands after using the restroom. 

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) is all too familiar with the impact of infectious diseases in public settings. DPH is reminding employees and their families that handwashing saves lives and is the first step to prevention against the common cold, hepatitis A, meningitis, influenza and diarrhea-causing viruses. During National Handwashing Awareness Week (December 4 – 10), DPH is promoting the basic practices for handwashing and hand awareness: Wash your hands when they are dirty; do not cough in your hands (cover your mouth with your forearm); do not sneeze in your hands (use a tissue or forearm); and do not put your fingers in your eyes, nose or mouth. Play it safe and remember to always wash your hands and to keep your hands away from your face. 

Every day, we take for granted that our activities at work, school, home or in the community are not lurking with germs that can make us sick. We are exposed to items contaminated with millions of germs each time we touch elevator buttons, door knobs, toilet handles, ATM buttons, cell phones, remote controls, computer keyboards, money and other surfaces. According to the Food and Drug Administration, the human influenza virus can survive on surfaces for up to eight hours—a fact that supports the importance of proper handwashing. 

Research by health officials confirms that handwashing is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which are responsible for 3.5 million deaths worldwide in children under age five every year. 

It is not unusual to see coworkers or individuals carrying around containers of hand sanitizer in public settings. In fact, some churches have started placing hand sanitizer in their pews due to the personal contact such as handshaking and hugging that occurs in these congregations. CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers if soap and water are unavailable. 

It is impossible to avoid touching all the surfaces where germs can exist, so make up your mind to practice regular, proper handwashing everyday. Do not skip washing your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer no matter how busy you get at work or home. You could be saving your life and the lives of countless other people. Most of us learned as youngsters to wash our hands to avoid sickness. As adults, we are the best defenders against contact with the germs in our environment.