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By: Dr. Miryala Ragini

Hand washing is the best defense against germs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that regular hand washing with soap could save more lives than any vaccine or medical treatment. Not only will it help keep your child (and you!) healthy, it will also help prevent the spread of infectious illnesses to others.

Washing hands lowers the risk of having diarrhea and developing intestinal infections, an important benefit, particularly for children. Diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 throughout the world because contact with the bacteria in fecal matter can cause serious illness. However, proper hand washing before meals and after going to the bathroom can significantly lower exposure to the germs that cause stomach infections.

Hand washing also decreases your child’s chances of developing an acute respiratory infection. The pathogens that cause respiratory complications are commonly found on surfaces and hands. Kids are constantly touching and rubbing their faces, so it’s very important for them to wash these germs off their hands. Illness-causing germs can enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth. The spread of bacterial eye infections, like conjunctivitis, or pink eye, can be greatly reduced with regular hand washing. This irritating eye condition causes eye pain, itching, light sensitivity and discharge. It is spread in many ways, with the most common being through contact.

Proper hand washing is extra important for kids in a school or group child care setting. Make sure your child’s teacher or caregiver promotes frequent hand washing, as it is the first line of defense against the spreading of the common cold, meningitis, bronchitis, the flu, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea. Hand washing is an easy and efficient way to lessen the chances of these illnesses and chronic inflammation—leading to better nutrition intake, more energy available for growth and development, and better attendance at school. Encouraging children to wash their hands at appropriate times will help to ensure that this practice becomes a lifelong habit.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, the proper way to wash your hands is:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap. 
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. 
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. 
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water. 
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

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The most critical times for hand washing are before preparing food and after going to the bathroom.

  • Only 20% of people wash their hands before preparing food.
  • Less than 75% of women and less than 50% of men wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
  • Every time a toilet is flushed with the lid up, a fine mist containing bacteria such as E. Coli and Staph is spread over an area of 6 square meters. The area around sinks in public bathrooms is 90% covered in such bacteria.*


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