Why You Should Wash Your Hands

International Infection Prevention Week

October 16 – 22, 2016

By Alexandra Ingber, Lead Program Development Specialist, EmblemHealth, MPH in Global Health, Infectious Diseases

Hand hygiene is an easy and effective way to help break the chain of infection. International Infection Prevention Week, recognized every year during the third week of October, helps teach families, caregivers, patients, and health care professionals how to do their part in preventing the spread of infections.[1] Everyone should feel empowered to prevent infection and remind others that they can help too.

Without even knowing it, most people frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth, which can easily transfer germs into the body. Germs cause infections that result in illnesses such as common colds, diarrhea, and other respiratory illnesses.[2] A systematic review found that hand washing could reduce the risk of diarrheal diseases by as much as 47%[3] and reduce the risk of respiratory infection by about 16%.[4]

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap and water kill most of the germs that make people sick and cause infections.[5] However, there are proper ways to clean your hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), remember these five steps for washing with soap and water: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry.[6]

  • Wet – wet hands with clean water and apply soap
  • Lather – rub hands together and lather soap on back of hands, between fingers, and under nails
  • Scrub – sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice to time at least 20 seconds of scrubbing
  • Rinse – rinse soap off under clean water
  • Dry – hands should air dry or be wiped using a clean towel

If clean water and soap are unavailable, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol. Properly use hand sanitizers by putting the gel in the palm of one hand, rubbing hands together, and making sure to cover all surfaces of hands and fingers until the gel is dry.4 However, there are certain infection- causing agents that are not eliminated by hand sanitizers, such as diarrhea causing C. difficile.4

Everyone can keep their loved ones and communities healthier and help prevent infections by cleaning their hands before and after certain activities. Always be sure to wash your hands before and after preparing food, caring for someone who is sick, using the toilet or changing a diaper, and coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose.4 Especially now that flu season is approaching, remember your power to break the cycle of infection by washing your hands!

Remember that this flu season, you can also prevention infections by receiving your annual flu vaccine. This is one the best things you can do to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community healthy. Visit your doctor’s office or closest retail pharmacy to inquire about the flu vaccine.


[1] http://professionals.site.apic.org/

[2] http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/why-handwashing.html

[3] Curtis, V. “Effect of Washing Hands With Soap on Diarrhoea Risk in the Community: A Systematic Review.” Lancet Infectious Diseases. 2003 May; 3(5):275-281. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12726975

[4] Rabie, T. “Handwashing and Risk of Respiratory Infection: A Quantitative Systematic Review.” Trop Med Int Health. 2006 Mar; 11(3)258-267. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16553905

[5] http://www.cdc.gov/features/handhygiene/

[6] http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html