And National Handwashing Awareness
Week is a good reminder
In a month noted for its holidays, busy preparations, food and traditions, National
Handwashing Awareness Week, which takes place December 1-7 this year, doesn't attract a lot of attention. But it's a vitally important period of time in that it can serve as a reminder of how something very basic can be so vitally important to our health.
How important? The Centers for Disease Control consider effective handwashing to be the single most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others. And if you think that infectious diseases are not a problem in developed countries, consider that they are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Infectious disease specialists recommend washing hands multiple times during the day, especially during the flu season, using soap and warm running water. The higher water temperature plays a role because the heat helps eliminate bacteria, but even cold, clean water makes a big difference. If running water isn't accessible, an alcohol-based hand hygiene product is the next best thing.
What we've learned in recent years is that the most important aspect of handwashing is friction. The act of vigorously rubbing your hands together and interlocking your fingers for 20 seconds or so is what makes the germs unable to attach to hand surfaces and can then be more easily washed away by running water. The value of friction in washing also extends to drying and is one of the points put forth by advocates of towel drying versus using warm air drying machines in public restrooms.
It's fairly impossible to completely avoid touching surfaces that have been touched by other people in the home, school and the workplace – but frequent handwashing remains your best defense against illnesses ranging from flu and the common cold to conjunctivitis and bronchitis.
In an era where technology drives most achievements in medicine, it's interesting to see that old fashioned handwashing leads the way in helping to stop the spread of disease. So put your hands together for this highly effective traditional strategy. And then wash them.
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