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FOR RELEASE: December 2, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Hand Washing Awareness Week Promotes Disease Prevention

The general public often ignores one of the easiest and least expensive disease prevention techniques. According to health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH), hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease. It’s especially important to remember this during influenza season, and when handling foods. December 7-13 is National Hand Washing Awareness Week and offers an opportunity to remind the public about the importance of practicing good hygiene through washing your hands.

Hand washing helps prevent colds, hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea as well as many other diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the correct way to wash your hands is to wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Secondly, rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds to dislodge and remove germs. Finally, rinse your hands well and dry them.

The new alcohol-based hand rubs are effective in reducing the number of germs on skin if your hands are not visibly soiled. The rubs are fast acting and cause less skin irritation, but it is important to remember that they are not effective when the hands are visibly soiled.

In the healthcare setting, hand washing can prevent potentially fatal infections from spreading from patient to patient, and from patient to healthcare worker and vice-versa. In the home, hand washing can prevent infectious diseases from spreading from family member to family member and throughout a community.

"The basic rule in the home is to wash your hands before preparing food, after handling raw foods, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom," said Lauri Smithee, MES, MS, director, Communicable Disease Division, OSDH.

“The most important thing that you can do to prevent illness is to wash your hands frequently. That washes away germs that you may have picked up from people, contaminated surfaces, animals or animal waste. You can infect yourself when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after your hands have picked up germs from other sources. One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus.”

Smithee said that it is especially important to wash your hands:

  • before, during, and after you prepare food;
  • before you eat;
  • after you use the bathroom or change a diaper;
  • after handling animals or animal waste;
  • when your hands are dirty; and
  • more frequently when someone in your home is sick.

“An estimated one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom, so hand washing becomes extremely important in preventing diseases,” Smithee said. “Properly washing your hands can save money on doctor’s visits and medical bills. That’s extra money you can use to treat yourself to something special.”

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