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Front Page » April 28, 2009 » Carbon County News » Proper hand-washing behavior plays key role in disease pr...
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Proper hand-washing behavior plays key role in disease prevention, personal health

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USU Extension writer

Hands are covered with millions of germs or microbes.

Because of the potential for disease, Utah State University Extension agent Darlene Christensen indicated that hand washing is a crucial, yet often overlooked behavior that is essential for food safety, disease prevention and personal health.

The majority of Americans underestimate the potential seriousness of food-borne illness and the importance of hand washing to prevent related diseases, including swine flu, noted the USU Extension agent.

Wirthlin Worldwide, an international research firm, conducted a hand-washing observational and telephone survey for the Bayer Corporation Pharmaceutical Division in association with the American Society for Microbiology.

The researchers determined that people do not wash their hands as often as they think they do, pointed out Christensen.

The telephone survey found that 94 percent of respondents claimed they always wash up after using the restroom.

The observational survey conducted in metropolitan locations in New York, Illinois, Georgia, Louisiana and California found that only 68 percent of the respondents, in fact, washed their hands after using the restroom, continued the USU Extension agent.

In addition, the Soap and Detergent Association's 2002 National Cleaning Survey revealed that 40 percent of American workers did not wash their hands often or long enough.

The 2002 survey also found that 58 percent of employers did not actively encourage hand washing in the workplace.

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing constitutes the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.

The center estimates there are 78 million cases of food-borne illness, with 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths each year.

The national health experts link poor hand hygiene to 34 percent of the documented cases of food-borne illness. 

The 24-hour flu or norovirus is one illness that spreads quickly from person to person when hands are not washed after using the restroom.

Any surface the ill individual touches, including doorknobs, phones, faucet handles or computer keyboards, may be contaminated.

When healthy people come in contact with the contaminated surfaces, they can carry the virus to the food and water they consume.

Hands spread germs so easily because their warm, moist environment is a harbor for germs, explained the USU Extension agent.

And since hands are always in contact with various objects, from noses to doorknobs, they pick up germs as well as spread them.

To help remove harmful germs that can easily be spread, Christensen recommended that Carbon County residents consider several preventative practices.

The suggestions recommended by Christensen included:

•Washing hands before eating or preparing food, taking care of someone who is ill, bandaging a cut or sore or putting contact lenses in and out.

People should also wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, blow their nose, cough or sneeze, touch an open sore or cut, handle dirt when gardening, change a litter box, change a diaper, pet an animal, handle raw meat, fish, poultry or eggs or use items after another individual has touched them, recommended Christensen.

Examples of the items in question include grocery carts and toys.

• When washing, people should wet hands with warm, running water.

People should add soap and rub hands together to make a soapy lather.

This should be done away from the running water so the soap will not be removed.

People should be sure to wash the front and back of hands, between the fingers, under the nails and on their wrists.

Hands should be scrubbed for 15 to 20 seconds or the equivalent of singing the ABC song twice, advised the USU Extension agent.

•Rinsing hands under warm running water and turning off the faucet with a clean paper towel.

People should remember that they turned the faucet on with dirty hands.

•Drying hands thoroughly with a clean paper towel.

Christensen encouraged local residents to use paper towels to open the exit door of the bathroom before throwing the items into an appropriate disposal container.

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