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Hand-washing is a simple and effective way to help prevent diseases, such as colds, flu, and food poisoning.

When to wash your hands

Washing hands:

  • Often, especially during cold and flu (influenza) season, can reduce your risk of catching or spreading a cold or the flu.
  • Before and after preparing or serving food reduces your risk of catching or spreading bacteria that cause food poisoning. Be especially careful to wash before and after preparing poultry, raw eggs, meat, or seafood.
  • After going to the bathroom or changing diapers reduces your risk of catching or spreading infectious diseases such as salmonella or hepatitis A.

Wash your hands after:

  • Touching parts of your body that are not clean.
  • Using the bathroom.
  • Coughing, sneezing, or using a handkerchief or disposable tissue.
  • Eating, drinking, or using tobacco (for example, smoking).
  • Handling soiled kitchen utensils or equipment.
  • Handling other soiled or contaminated utensils or equipment.
  • Handling or preparing foods, especially after touching raw meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, or eggs.
  • Changing diapers, handling garbage, using the phone, shaking hands, or playing with pets.

Proper hand-washing

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the following steps for hand-washing:

  1. Wash your hands with running water and soap.
  2. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds.
  3. Pay special attention to your wrists, the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  4. Leave the water running while you dry your hands on a paper towel.
  5. Use the paper towel as a barrier between the faucet and your clean hands when you turn off the water.

If soap and water are not available, use gel hand sanitizers or alcohol-based hand wipes containing 60% to 90% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol. Most supermarkets and drugstores carry these products. Carry one or both with you when you travel, and keep them in your car or purse.

If using the gel sanitizer, rub your hands until the gel is dry. You don't need to use water. The alcohol in the gel kills the germs on your hands.

  • Colds
  • Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling
  • Health and Safety, Ages 2 to 5 Years
  • Health and Safety, Birth to 2 Years

By: Healthwise Staff Last Revised: July 9, 2012
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Christine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology

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