An easy action that takes just 20 seconds can cut your risk for catching a cold, flu or other contagious diseases by up to 51 percent, recent studies show. And if everyone made it a regular habit, one million deaths a year would be prevented, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which calls this habit the single most important way to avoid spreading infection.
Frequent hand washing with soap and water can save you money—and misery—by helping you avoid medical bills, missed workdays, or having to stay home with a sick child. And you’ll also protect your friends and family: A CDC survey found that 40 million Americans a year fall prey to illnesses spread by hands, which can harbor up to 500,000 bacteria per square centimeter.
Not only does lathering up protect you from respiratory illnesses like colds, but it also helps ward off more serious conditions, including hepatitis A, meningitis, and potentially life-threatening superbug infections, such as MRSA. Overall, 80 percent of all infectious diseases are spread by touch.
Here are just a few research findings that illustrate the protective power of clean hands:
Ninety-one percent of Americans say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, but an observational study conducted in the six US airports found that only 26 percent of men and 17 percent of women actually did. And here’s something to ponder before you shake someone’s hand during cold and flu season: A recent survey also found that only 24 percent of men and 39 percent of women always wash their hands after they cough or sneeze.
Hand hygiene among doctors is even worse, with 73 percent of pediatric ICU physicians claiming that they soaped up between patients, but when the MDs were secretly observed, only 10 percent actually washed. If doctors and nurses were more diligent about hand hygiene, up to 80,000 Americans lives would be saved each year.
Experts caution patients to ask healthcare providers a simple question before any hands-on exam: “Did you wash your hands?” That’s important even if the provider is wearing gloves, reports Texas Health Resources Infection Control.
To stay healthy and avoid spreading germs to others, the CDC and other experts advise washing your hands before and after preparing food, before eating, after changing diapers or using the toilet, after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose, after touching an animal, and after touching garbage.
Follow these simple steps:
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