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FOR RELEASE: November 28 , 2007
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Handwashing Can Help Prevent Many Diseases

Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent the transmission of disease, especially during influenza season. Oklahoma public health officials are using National Handwashing Awareness Week, Dec. 2-8, 2007,as an opportunity to remind everyone about this simple and inexpensive disease prevention technique.
“Handwashing helps prevent catching and spreading colds, influenza, skin infections caused by MRSA, as well as many other diseases,” said Becky Coffman, RN, MPH, epidemiologist with the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “The effective way to wash your hands is to wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 15 to 20 seconds to dislodge and remove germs, and then rinse your hands well and dry them,” she said.

Coffman said alcohol-based hand products that contain 60 percent to 95 percent alcohol are effective in reducing the number of germs on skin if your hands are not visibly soiled. The products are fast acting, 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, handwashing 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
  • Before and after using sports/fitness equipment
  • When your hands are dirty
  • Before and after treating a cut
  • 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.

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


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