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FOR RELEASE: December 2, 2004
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Hand Washing Can Help Prevent Many Diseases

Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the transmission of disease, especially during influenza season. Oklahoma public health officials are using National Hand Washing Awareness Week, Dec. 5-11, 2004, as an opportunity to remind people about this simple and inexpensive disease prevention technique.

“Hand washing helps prevent catching and spreading colds, hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea, as well as many other diseases,” said Oklahoma State Department of Health Epidemiologist, Becky Coffman, RN, MPH. “The effective way to wash your hands is to wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds to dislodge and remove germs, and then, rinse your hands well and dry them,” she said.

Coffman said 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. The benefits of these hand sanitizers are their convenience, speed, and ability to use when soap and water are not readily available.

In the home, hand washing can prevent infectious diseases from spreading among family members and throughout a community.

Public health officials advise you to wash your hands:

  • Before, during and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • Before you insert or remove contact lenses
  • After you use the bathroom or change a diaper
  • After handling uncooked foods, especially meat, poultry or fish
  • After handling animals or animal waste
  • After you blow your nose, cough or sneeze
  • After you handle garbage or dirty laundry
  • When your hands are dirty
  • More often when someone in your home is sick

“You can infect yourself when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after your hands have picked up germs from other sources such as people, uncooked foods or contaminated environmental areas. 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,” Coffman said.

A survey sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology found that 95 percent of people said they washed their hands when they should, such as after using the restroom. However, observation in airport restrooms showed that in some major U.S. cities less than 70 percent of people actually washed their hands.

In observance of National Hand Washing Awareness Week and to prevent disease this winter, improve your hand hygiene habits, and teach your family members to do the same.

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