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Hand Hygiene: Your Health is in Your Hands

Hand Hygiene: Your Health is in Your Hands

Our hands play a very important role in our health and the health of our families. Keeping our hands clean is one of the most important steps we can do to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. And with children and adults going back to school, this is a great time of year to review why we should wash our hands and how to do it.

The human hand is made of up 27 individual bones, in addition to ligaments, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. The top of our hands are protected by a thin layer of muscle and fat, while the palms of our hands are protected by a strong pad of tendons (connect muscle to bone). Our hands contain thousands of nerve endings that allow us to feel pressure, movement, and vibration. The skin covering our hands protects us from injury and serves as a barrier to germs. Given the unlimited functions are hands are able to preform, it is not surprising they come into contact with germs that can cause harm to our bodies.

One of the most common sources of germs is feces (poop, stool, BM). One gram of human feces, which is about the weight of a paper clip (0.00220462 pounds), can contain one trillion germs. Raw foods, including meat, poultry, fish and shellfish, eggs, unpasteurized milk and dairy products, and fresh produce, can also contain bacteria that cause illness. 

 Illnesses that can be spread by not washing our hands include:

·         Respiratory illnesses, such as colds and the flu: When a sick person breathes, sneezes, or coughs into the air, infected droplets are scattered, landing on nearby objects. When we touch these infected objects, germs get onto your hands. We get sick by touching our noses or mouths after touching these objects with unwashed hands

·         Norovirus and Rotovirus: These viruses can cause severe vomiting and diarrhea. The viruses, which are very contagious, are spread when our hands are not washed after

     Going to the bathroom

     Changing a diaper

     Handling vomit

     Eating contaminated food or beverage

     Caring for an ill person

·         Hepatitis A: This is a highly contagious viral infection of the liver. It is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person ingests food or water that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person (who doesn't wash their hands)

·         Shigellosis: This is a bacterial infection in our intestines. It is spread from one person to another by eating food contaminated by infected people who do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. It can cause severe vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain

·         Giardiasis: This is a parasite that also causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. It is spread by drinking infected water and hand-to-feces contact

·         Hand-foot-mouth disease: This is a disease caused by the coxsackie virus. The symptoms include blister-like bumps in the mouth, on the palms of the hands, and sole of the feet. It, too, is spread by ingesting food or drink contaminated by hand-to-feces contact

·         Food poisoning: This can be caused by several bacteria including Salmonella, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter, and E. coli 0157:H7. Inadequate hand washing can cause your food to be contaminated (by someone who doesn't wash their hands)

·         Worm infestation: Intestinal worms can be found in the feces of humans and animals. If you have contact with infected soil or feces and fail to wash your hands before touching food or drink, you can transfer worm eggs from your hands onto the meal you have prepared

·         Conjunctivitis (pink eye): This contagious eye infection can be shared by hand-to-hand contact

·         Chickenpox: This disease, caused by the varicella virus, is spread by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters

 When should you wash your hands?

·         Before, during, and after preparing food

·         Before eating food

·         Before and after caring for someone who is sick

·         Before and after treating a cut or wound

·         After using the toilet

·         After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet

·         After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

·         After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

·         After handling pet food or pet treats. (If handled incorrectly, these foods can be contaminated with germs)

·         After touching garbage

 How to wash your hands:

·         Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the faucet, and apply soap. (Turning the faucet off saves water)

·         Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails

·         Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice

·         Rinse your hands well under clean, running water

·         Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands, but do not eliminate all types of germs. In addition, avoid putting your hands to your face, as this can reduce the risk of transferring germs.

For more information on handwashing, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/index.html

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