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Hand-Washing May Have Kept Flu at Bay
Date:12/30/2010

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Following mothers' advice may have played a big role in averting a major health crisis.

Fears of the H1N1 flu virus reached a fever pitch last winter, with public health officials fearing a widespread outbreak caused by short supplies of the needed vaccine. But an epidemic was averted, and some health experts believe that's because more people than ever before regularly washed their hands.

Hand-washing in the United States has become a widespread habit, according to the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute. They released a study in September finding that 85 percent of people washed their hands in public restrooms in 2008, the highest levels observed since they began researching hand-washing habits in 1996.

And though there's no direct scientific evidence that hand-washing fended off H1N1 long enough for a vaccine to be developed and distributed, the head of the American Public Health Association said he believes that good hygiene very likely played a prominent role in the virus never catching fire in the United States.

"Hand-washing is really the cornerstone of good sanitation and good hygiene," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, the group's executive director. "Prior to having a vaccine, the things we had to rely on were covering up your nose and mouth when you sneeze, washing your hands as frequently as you could and avoiding hand-to-hand contact."

People's hands regularly pick up bacteria and viruses when they come in contact with other surfaces, said Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Someone else may have handled a doorknob, a keyboard, a cup, a handrail -- you don't know," Dimond said. "And the flu virus can live up to five hours on these surfaces. Your eye itches and you scratch your eye and bingo, that's how you get the virus into you."'/>"/>

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