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Hand-Washing Key to Stopping Spread of Disease

THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- There are many ways to prevent spreading germs and disease, but experts say one of the easiest ways is also one of the most important: proper hand-washing.

This is especially true during the holidays when people travel and get together for parties and other celebrations, researchers at the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety noted.

"Hand-washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. You can spread certain 'germs' (a general term for microbes such as viruses and bacteria) by touching another person even casually. You can also catch germs when you touch contaminated objects or surfaces and then touch your face," the group explained in a news release from the Society for Women's Health Research.

When people don't wash their hands they can spread a number of illnesses, including the common cold, which accounts for roughly 22 million missed school days and 20 million sick days from work, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Although there is no way to completely get rid of germs, frequent hand-washing can significantly limit the spread of viruses, bacteria and other microbes. Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) caution, however, that hand-washing only prevents the spread of germs if it's done properly.

The CDC offers the following hand-washing guidelines:

  • Place hands under clean, running water.
  • Once wet, add soap and rub hands together until suds form.
  • Scrub on every surface for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice), including both sides, between fingers and under fingernails.
  • Rinse hands again under running water and dry with a clean dry towel or air-dry.

Of course, hands should be washed when they are obviously dirty, but to avoid getting sick, the CDC suggests that hands should always be washed before: preparing food or eating; treating cuts or other wounds; handling medicine or caring for someone sick; or touching contact lenses.

The CDC also recommends washing hands after: handling raw meat and poultry; using the bathroom or changing a diaper; touching animals or pet toys, leashes or waste; coughing, sneezing or nose blowing; treating wounds or caring for a sick person; carrying garbage, chemicals or anything that could be contaminated; using public transportation.

When soap and water are not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60 percent alcohol can effectively clean hands, according to the news release.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on hand-washing.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Society for Women's Health Research, news release, Dec. 21, 2011

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