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Why Is Handwashing So Important?

By Becky Miller ; Updated July 18, 2017

Washing your hands often and keeping them clean is one of the most important ways to prevent the spread of illness and infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Handwashing lowers your chances of getting sick by reducing the spread of germs and keeps your family and everyone around you healthier. The importance of handwashing cannot be overemphasized.


Thousands of lives have been saved because of Ignaz Semmelweis, an Austrian-Hungarian physician. More than 150 years ago, when the importance of sanitation and handwashing was still unknown, Dr. Semmelweis insisted that student physicians at the Vienna hospital where he worked wash their hands before touching maternity patients. The students had been working on corpses in an anatomy class, proceeding to perform their rounds in the maternity ward without washing their hands. His experiment proved successful when maternity deaths decreased fivefold. Fifty more years went by before handwashing would become the norm in the medical profession.


Under normal circumstances, the proper way to wash your hands is to run them under warm water, lather well and rub vigorously for at least 20 seconds, scrubbing your palms, the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and especially under your fingernails. Rinse well and dry with a clean towel. Handwashing is quick, simple and only requires soap and water.


In addition to washing your hands when they appear or feel dirty, according to the Mayo Clinic you should always wash your hands before eating or preparing food, treating wounds, giving medicine, touching a sick or injured person or popping your contact lenses in or out. In addition, always wash your hands after using the toilet, changing a diaper, preparing food, particularly eggs, raw meat and poultry, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands, touching an animal or animal waste, treating wounds, handling garbage and touching a sick or injured person.


Handwashing is vital at all times, but especially when you are handling a baby. Since their immune systems have not yet fully developed, babies can get critically ill from an infection, particularly if they are premature or sickly. Be especially vigilant during cold and flu season.


Children should be taught the importance of handwashing from an early age. Germs are everywhere and kids touch everything and then put their fingers in the mouths, so teaching them to wash their hands frequently can protect them. Kids attending day care are at greater risk of respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases, so be sure your child care provider encourages regular handwashing.

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