Hand-washing Is Still the Best Way to Prevent Illness

By , SparkPeople Blogger
With the recent outbreak of the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus and now with seasonal flu just beginning to appear, hand-washing is still considered to be one of the most effective means of preventing the spread of disease. Strangely enough, how a simple act of washing our hands for 20 seconds with good ol’ soap and water can do wonders to keep us all healthy.

Having recently spent some time in the hospital with my Dad after his hip replacement surgery, the one common denominator on all patients’ doors was the sign encouraging hand-washing by every person entering and leaving the room. If you preferred not to wash your hands, anti-septic foam dispensers were found just inside the door. These dispensers are commonplace in many doctor’s offices these days, as well as retirement homes. Have you noticed too, that retail stores, banks, and even some fast food restaurants have resorted to keeping a bottle of alcohol based gel on the counter?

Hand-washing is a win-win situation for everyone. Not only does it help you from getting sick, but it may help prevent others from getting sick from you. Studies have revealed that the simple act of washing hands can literally save millions of lives, not only in hospitals, but the food industry and schools were germs are found everywhere.

A survey conducted in 2007 by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) showed 77% of those using public restrooms actually washed their hands, however, this figure is a drop from 83% compliance only two years earlier.

In a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in October 2009, British researchers studied the hand-washing behavior of almost 200,000 people using a service station restroom over the course of 32 days in the summer of 2008. The study revealed that both men and women were more likely to wash their hands with both soap and water after using the restroom if they believed they were being observed by other people.

Researchers placed an electronic sign in each restroom with various messages promoting hand-washing to see which message elicited the greatest use of soap with hand-washing for both men and women. The one message that led to the greatest compliance read, "Is the person next to you washing with soap?" Researchers concluded that when people believe they are being watched, they are more likely to wash with soap and water than skip the process.

Do you pay attention to what others do in the restroom? Do notice if they use soap and water? How do you feel when others don’t wash their hands after using the restroom?

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I believe in washing my hands and make sure that the kids wash their hands. Report
Funny to read this ....after seeing the movie CONTAGION....really makes one THINK about how very important handwashing really is.....as for Flu Shots....I haven't had one in over 11 years! I never get the flu... Report
I just read the other article about the flu shot and mentioned that I never have gotten the shot and attribute it to my hand washing, and not touching my face. I never get sick, maybe a stuffy nose once a year, but that's it. I am always watching other people and often will wash my hands after shaking someone elses hand. I also clean my office phone with rubbing alcohol once a week... Report
I'm all for washing, but NOT for anti-bac soap! Report
I work at a local hospital they stress hadwashing a lot Report
The older I get, the more I wash my hands. I also pay more attention when others don't. Report
I learned this early on, long before there was hand sanitizers, and news articles about washing your hands because it was something my Mom practiced everyday. And she always said it was how she kept from getting the flu and colds every winter. Pretty smart gal my Mom! Report
I wash my hands always. With all the virus' and germs out ,I know how important a good wash is. I do notice when others aren't washing their hands. I'll never understand how someone can take the time to freshen lipstick, brush hair... but they didn't take an extra minute to wash their hands! I agree that I prefer having papertowels to open the door after. Report
Tons of people don't bother to wash their hands after using the bathroom, but I don't concern myself. I do use my sleeve to open the bathroom door to go out as I always feel it is "nasty." Report
I agree that I like the paper towels so I can use it to open the door afterwards. After all I can't see if the people before me washed their hands. Report
I do pay attention what others do in the bathrooms. I must say I am disgusted when I notice that people do not wash their hands or use soap afterwards. My own children disgust me when I notice they are only using water and not soap. Those little hands are everywhere and i would like them clean when they go to eat their dinner. Now, am I the best at washing my hands no, and so I do not have room to talk. I teach and should wash my hands a ton more than what I do to keep the germs out of my system. Report
I hate using public washrooms that only have the hand dryers. I understand the whole towel litter debate, but it leaves us with nothing to use while opening that door to leave. Question remains: after we wash our hands, how dirty are they getting once we handle the doorknob upon exiting the washroom? Report
AMEN TO THAT! Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! And sing a jingle while doing it, such as "Row, Row, Row your boat" to make sure you are washing for a correct length of time. (Be certain to sing the whole jingle!) Report
lways wash my hands but do not notice or comment to others about it. Report
In addition to washing hands well
(including between the fingers, under the nails and around the wrists) try to use one hand to open doors, push buttons on the phone/elevator, pick up things, and the other hand to touch your face, handle tissue for sneezing, eating and so on. It's very hard do this 100% of the time, but it can help to decrease transferring germs to your mucous membranes (those in your nose, mouth, eyes) where bacteria and viruses have an easier time entering the body.

If it's possible to push open a door with your elbow or hip, it's better than doing it with your hands.

Another item to be careful about is the grocery cart. No way to know who has touched it and what those individuals' personal hygiene practices are. And avoid placing your purchases on the grocery cart seat.

I am always surprised at the number of educated people I work with who do not wash their hands after using the restroom. I sit near the restrooms and I see guys especially dash in and out and you know they did not have time to wash. Yuck! Report
I think it is important to wash your hands, but I also think that it is important to keep your hands moisturized. Those little cuts and cracks get a lot of dirt into them and can harbor germs. Report
As a healthcare professional, I wash my hands ALL THE TIME. One thing I've noticed is that it's very helpful to keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or car and use it before you eat. Also keep a small bottle of lotion so that your hands don't get to dry...especially in the winter! Report
A good way to know you are washing your hands long enough is sing Happy Birthday which takes about 20-30 seconds and is an adequate amount of time for hand washing. Report
I wash my hands alot and use hand sanitizers quite a bit. But I have had 4 colds this year...currently my back is out from coughing.... Report
Great article. Just a note of caution, handwashing is great, but if you are using anti-microbial and anti-bacterial soaps you could be helping the germs to become resistant and thus stronger. Regular soap and hot water is fine, and make you wash for at least 20 minutes. Because almost every place I go has the anti-microbial soaps I also use an alcohol based product to clean my hands (such as Purell). The alcohol and fast evaporation dry out the cell wall of the microbes and bacteria and will even kill the ones that the anti soaps will not. Report
I'm very conscious of whether someone washes their hands. Unfortunately, we do have contact with those who don't perform this simple task---touching doorknobs, pushing open doors, coming in contact with something they touched. I've become more conscious of what people do since the swine flu pandemic---how they cover their sneeze, disposal of Kleenix, etc. Report
My husband is fanatical about hand washing. Also - if you are at a restaurant and the kitchen staff uses the rest room with their aprons on - do not eat their. The aprons often come in contact with food, prep utensils or the staff's hands. You do not want to have that item in a bathroom. We have walked out of restaurants for that. Report
I always carry hand sanitizers with me to use wherever I go including restaurants. Because of what I see in the women's room, I no longer take part in office parties where people bring in food. One of my co-workers called a woman out once in the lavatory when she went to walk out after using the lavatory without washing her hands. She responded, I didn't pee on my hands. So even if she used a hand sanitizer after leaving the rest room, with a response like that I seriously doubted it. The other thing that annoys me is to watch a person cut a birthday cake, lick their fingers and then continue cutting the cake. Perhaps I'm a little like Monk - no thank you I don't want any cake - didn't need it anyway. Report
This may be a repeat - I did not read every comment.

Do not touch things - and clean - read below.

* If there is a hanciapped button to open the door - hit it with your elbow/ hip. We can stop doing this in the summer when the flu is over.

* Try not to hold on to stairways - and please try to use the stairs instead of the el.

I try to keep my hands and my work area clean without obsessing about it. Common sense is my watchword.

We can minimize our exposure to germs by washing our hands properly, but we will never be able to eliminate it completely, so I think it would make sense to balance handwashing with other important immunity-boosting practices (that we have control over) such as: 1) getting vaccinated; 2) getting enough sleep; 3) eating right, 4) staying home from work or school if you're sick and possibly taking a vitamin supplement, rather than complain (as some readers have) because we're not all conscientious hand-washers. My mother, by the way, is a compulsive hand-washer with severely chapped skin to prove it, but she still gets sick. I'm not sure she's as conscientious about how she eats, the quality and quantity of her sleep, or other important ways of protecting herself.

N.B. One thing I do is keep Clorox wipes at my desk so I can wipe down my telephone, keyboard, and other work surfaces, especially after others use them. Report
When I was in high school, I did a study for my psych/soc class to see if people in public restrooms were more likely to wash their hands when another person was present. This was back in the day of pay toilets. Since most of the folks used the free stall, I hid myself by standing on a toilet in one of the pay stalls so I could observe what went on at the sinks. My sister was the control, standing by the mirror and fussing with her hair for half of the time I was there. I had chosen a restroom at the local shopping mall, and during the 6 hours I was there I was appalled to find that almost half of the women who used the toilets failed to wash their hands when they thought that they were alone! If I recall correctly, the percentage went up to 87% when my sister was present! Report
It's pretty gross to see somebody run their hands under the water, use no soap then shake their hands and fling germs all over the place, then germ up the paper towel dispenser with their germy, wet, unwashed hands and I pray that they left some of the germs in the paper towel when they grab the handle to open the door to leave.
I can't help but notice. It's not just the flu, and colds it could also be hepatitis they are leaving on that door handle for you. Report
Ohh, my biggest pet peeve are people who run their hands under the faucet for a second and then dry them - no soap, nothing. What's the point!? Please people, wash your hands, especially after going to the bathroom! Report
Washing hands = good. Yup. Agreed.
However- urine is not filthy. Urine is not the problem. Just a reminder.... you can drink the stuff. Not my 'cup of tea', but the point of hand washing is to minimize the number of bacteria that you carry with you. The 'do it after you use the restroom' is a timing device. Wash your hands 4- 6 times a day is the goal.
I felt like I had to say this- what's with the 'ooooh, ick' stuff? I'm not worried about what MY body is harboring. I'm worried about catching stuff from other people.
Sigh. Report
When we were traveling this past summer, I noticed the different wording on bathroom signs in different states. One read something like "dirty hands spread disease." This seems like the wrong way to word it, because many people (especially kids!) will say/think "my hands don't look dirty, I'm okay" and then not wash. The university where I work currently has signs up that read "Unwashed hands spread disease." Much more to the point!

(In retrospect, I wish I'd taken pictures to document all the differences. Next time!) Report
The thing that I think is so bad at the gym is when someone I see in the restroom does not wash their hands and then goes out to the cardio equipment, gets going without even using the bacterial gel that is available. I always use the papertowels to clean the machines b/4 and after I use them. I just wish more people would do this. I was also told by my doctor that 97% of the flu that was around the OC,CA area was the swine flu. Nice. Report
Wild, foot-stomping, cheering, whistling applause for your thoughtful blog entry, Nancy! Like the wise KAT573, I, too, have been inspired by the zealously cautious MONK! I don't have anyone to carry my wipes stash everywhere I go, but I do the "Happy Birthday" hand-washing routine and use a paper towel on the door handle when I exit the public loo.

You know what really makes me queasy? Filling up my gas tank! One has to touch that pump handle, and who knows whose microbe-infested mitts touched it previously. So I carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer wherever I go.

Mom would be proud :) I hope your dad's recovering nicely from his surgery. He's got a wonderful daughter. Report
I hate using public restrooms in general.Speaking for the women... if there are 10 of us in there I would be the only one washing my hands. Women/ men not washing after urinating and defecating is disturbing and extremely disgusting. No wonder people are sick all the time. Yuck!!!! Report
I'm always teased because I am so obsessed about washing my hands. I work in a hospital, we were always taught to wash our hands. It is a constant for me. When I am in a public bathroom, I get some paper towels, wash my hands, use a paper towel to turn off the water, then us another to dry. Then I use that to open the door and walk out. Report
i think it is so disgusting when people don't wash their hands. i wash my hands and then take the paper towel and open the door.think about all the people who have touched that door handle will make you sick to even think about it Report
It really grosses me out when people don't wash their hands after they use a public restroom! It also bugs when they don't use soap if it's available. Report
I agree! I shudder when I see woman leave public bathrooms without washing their hands, and I can't help but wonder how many employees that handle food wash their hands, not only after using the bathroom but other times, too.

One problem with hand washing is that most people don't do it long enough and don't really get between the fingers. I read in several places that you should wash your hands as long it takes you to sing Happy Birthday twice at a normal speed--you might want to do this to yourself when in public. :-)

I have a mildly compromised immune system and frequently wash my hands, then use a hand sanitizer (which I always carry with me) especially when I return to my table in a restaurant. Even if one has washed well, you pick up an amazing amount of germs from faucets and the door. If possible, I use a paper towel to turn off faucets and open doors. Report
Me and my daughter are accused of being Germ X phobia's.... lol! We do! I have a cleaning business so we have to take extra precautions on our job... we never ever eat out of a public food tray ew! Makes me sick just thinking of that.....We have even gotten to the point of pouring our bagged food onto our plates instead of sticking our hands into the bag! I know we are ate up with being germ free! Report
i dont think it is any of my business what others do nor do i even want to police them. i just wash my own. we have gotten so germ a phobic and other countries think we are nuts. Report
I can't imagine going to the bathroom and NOT washing your hands! Report
I'm still trying to get my dad to flush every time, let alone wash his hands....SO GROSS! Report
I aso carry a bottle of hand sannitizer in my purse after I saw a friedn pul one out before we ate our meal. Normally, I wash my hands before every meal. Now, with the threat of the H1N1, sanitizers are everywhere. I have a bottle at my desk as well and not sure how it works! My daughter explained to me that the going into the bathroom, the door is worst than it is leaving it! Imagine that! When people don't wash their hands when leaving the bathroom, I wonder what other things they don't do and mindful of who brings what to the pot luck meals! Report
You're talking to a borderline mysophobe, here- very close to obsessive germophobia. Going to public places (especially into public restrooms) is hard. I arm myself- my purse, glove-box, drawers, rooms, etc. & disinfect every single surface I have to touch. Touchy-feel-y cyber world... ya' it is an AWESOME new world for me! Must wash hands! Report
If you don't wash your hands and I see you not do it, know that in my head I'm judging you. :) Report
I work at a major university so have staff, students and public constantly going in and out. With the flu outbreak, I was teased about having hand sanitizers and kleenx available. Told them I was ready for the plague. I see a lot of students using them and so far, only one staff member has had the flu. He got it from his kids.

Bathrooms, I am amazed at how many do not use soap. I have dry skin and some of the cheap soaps are horrible. Report
I had that same trivia question and got the same wrong answer!! Report
I pay attention if people are washing their hands or not. It is so gross when someone goes to the bathroom and just leaves. Everyone should wash their hands. I never touch the faucet or the door with my hands after I have washed them, I use a paper towel. Report
I really don't pay attention to what others do in regards to washing in a public restroom. I have to agree with one of the other posters, about how dirty public restrooms can be. All fall and winter, I've washed my hands and used hand sanitizer at work, since I work with the public, and just came down with something over the weekend. I'm figuring I picked it up at my dentist's office on Thursday. So, it seems like all my preventive measures were for naught! Report
The other day I had a trivia question on SP about the best way to prevent the flu. I answered hand washing but I got it wrong!!! The correct answer was "getting a flu shot." Not a big deal from a flu standpoint, as I do both...but I wanted the trivia question right!!! :D Report