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Why is hand-washing so important, anyway?

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Whether we’re in the midst of cold and flu season or it’s just a random summer day, it feels like we see signs and hear the message from all angles: Better wash your hands!

Hand-washing is smart, healthy; we teach our children to do it from a young age and it’s relatively quick and simple -- lather up those hands, rinse, dry them off and you’re good to go.

But have you ever stopped to wonder why, exactly, we wash? Beyond the obvious reason, that is: it helps you stay clean, and clean equals good.

Well, we did some digging -- and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention features an article on its website titled, “Show Me the Science - Why Wash Your Hands?” that goes well beyond what you likely already suspected.

“Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others,” the article says. “Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water.”

Here are a few facts and numbers that we thought you might be interested to know -- and they’ll definitely make you run for the faucet as well, to make sure your hands are as clean as possible.

  • Feces from people or animals are a major source of germs, including Salmonella, E. coli O157, and norovirus. But those germs can spread in more ways than just getting onto people’s hands after they use the bathroom or change a diaper. For example, it can happen after handling raw meats that have invisible amounts of animal poop on them.
  • In fact, a single gram of human feces, which weighs about the same as a paper clip, can contain one trillion germs, the CDC said, citing research from the National Institutes of Health.
  • Then let’s say people you touch something that has been coughed or sneezed on -- it or was touched by some other contaminated object. When these germs get onto our hands and they’re not washed off, they can be passed around and make people sick.

Something as simple as washing your hands really can make all the difference. The practice prevents illnesses and the spread of infections to others.

Think for a moment about how much you touch your eyes, nose and mouth, without even thinking twice about it.

Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, and that’s what makes us sick.

If we’re not washing our hands regularly, consider what happens when we make or eat food: Germs can spread. They can also multiply in some types of foods or drinks under certain conditions, and that could make us sick, too.

Plus, we don’t want to transfer germs to things like food, handrails, table tops, toys, or to another person’s hands.

(We have a good feeling you’re getting the picture by now).

Some final figures for you:

Handwashing ...

  • Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23-40%.
  • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%.
  • Reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21%.
  • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29-57%.

This link contains more detailed information if you’re wondering on the sources for those numbers, by the way.

Pharmacy Advantage wants you to use December to get organized and healthy for the new year. Coincidentally, National Handwashing Awareness Week is held every year in early December.

So tell a friend. Tell your children! Getting and staying healthy starts with washing our hands.