By Ann Sullivan
Thoroughly washing your hands is the best way to prevent catching and spreading bacteria causing illness and infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Surfaces we contact daily are full of germs that can breed infection. Everything from the bathroom to raw food in the kitchen contains some form of harmful bacteria. These pose many health dangers and illnesses which could easily be prevented with simple soap and hot water. Here are 9 of the dangers you face when not washing your hands enough.
1) Salmonella Poisoning
Salmonella is a bacterium found in uncooked eggs and poultry. Not only should you wash your hands and clean all cooking surfaces, you should rinse eggs and chicken or turkey prior to cooking. This can prevent the spread of this bacteria, even if cooking eliminates it. If you touch raw poultry, and then touch other surfaces or raw foods, you can easily contaminate them and cause this food-borne illness to spread, which is essentially a form of food-poisoning. Salmonella poisoning is not a pleasant experience. Most of the time the symptoms are mild to moderate, but for someone who has a weak immune system or is elderly, it can be more dangerous. It’s a good rule of thumb to rinse all raw foods. There have been cases where salmonella has been found in lettuce or premixed salads due to contamination at the distribution source.
2) Spreading or Catching Colds and Flu
If you have a cold or the flu, you can easily spread germs by not washing your hands enough. While it’s true these germs may also be airborne, washing your hands will prevent you from spreading germs via your hands. You can also leave germs on surfaces that other people may touch and subsequently catch your illness. Likewise, you can catch germs and become ill from touching surfaces and not washing your hands afterwards. If you want to prevent brining germs home with you, the rule of thumb is to wash your hand as soon as you get in the door. That way, if any germs have hitched a ride on your hands, they won’t be taking up residence in your home or your body. If you’ve already caught a cold or flu, you should always wash your hands after you touch your nose or mouth.
3) Improper Handwashing
Equally important to washing your hands often enough, is washing them properly. Simply running your hands under cold water and shaking them off is as good as not washing them at all. To wash your hands thoroughly, you should lather up with soap and scrub both sides of your hands, in between your fingers and under your nails for 20 seconds. Some experts recommend you should sing the Happy Birthday Song, or something similar in length, to ensure proper hand washing. This also works well in teaching children how to wash their hands properly. Rinse well with hot water. Cross contamination is another aspect of improper hand washing. This is especially true when using public rest rooms. You shouldn’t touch the handle of the faucet with clean hands. You run the risk of re-contaminating your skin with what you just washed off.
4) Pink Eye
Otherwise known as conjunctivitis, pink eye is spread through hand to eye contact. It’s highly contagious and common among children. Adults, however, are not immune. Anyone can catch it. It looks bad with a very blood shot pink appearance. It’s uncomfortable, itchy, can ooze puss and can easily be spread to anyone once you have it. If you are unfortunate enough to catch it, you should not touch or rub your eye with your hands. Anything you touch after that, if you don’t wash your hands thoroughly and properly, will become contaminated with the infectious germs. That’s why children are among those who spread it the most. As a rule of thumb, you should never touch your eyes with your hands. You run the risk of other germs as well as possibly getting dirt or other irritants in your eyes.
5) Food Contamination
This one sounds as gross as it really is. When you don’t wash your hands properly, especially after you use the toilet, you run the risk of feces contaminating your food. This is a serious matter, as it can cause severe illness. If you’re cooking for others, you run the risk of making everyone ill as well. There have been cases in the news where an entire day’s patrons were stricken with food poisoning, simply because the chef, or other food preparer, did not wash their hands properly after using the lavatory. This is also why it’s a good idea not to delve into that bowl of nuts or pretzels at a bar or another public place. Just think of how many people have put their hands in there before you, and the probability they didn’t wash their hands first.
6) Abdominal and Intestinal Issues
People who don’t wash their hands enough, and especially before eating, run the risk of ongoing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and digestive issues. Just as you wouldn’t eat off the surface of your toilet, you should never touch food, whether preparing or eating it, without thoroughly and properly washing your hands first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that thirty-percent of diarrhea related sickness stems from not washing hands enough or correctly. You not only run the risk of making yourself ill, you also are putting other people at risk if you touch their food or food preparation surface and materials. Worse issues could include bacterial infection in the intestines accompanied by a multitude of unpleasant symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, cramping and fever in addition to diarrhea. Now, wouldn’t it be better to just wash your hands?!
Equally important to washing your hands enough is using the proper type of soap. Anti-bacterial products, such as hand sanitizer and soaps, can do more harm than good. These products remove the good germ-fighting bacteria. As a result, you become more susceptible to bad bacteria because there’s nothing left to fight it. Anti-bacterial hand cleaners are supposed to be taken off the market. That’s remains to be seen. When shopping for soap, be sure to check the label carefully. Many products contain the words “anti-bacterial” in very small letters, so it’s easy to miss. Stick to the most basic and pure soaps you can find. Soap and hot water will kill the dangerous germs without removing the bacteria fighting ones. Good old-fashioned soap and hot water is the best defense against germs when washing your hands. Unfortunately, many public rest-rooms still use these anti-bacterial soaps.
8) Catching and Spreading Diseases
Colds and flu aren’t the only illnesses you can catch or spread by improper hand washing. Hepatitis A spreads through infected food or water. It infects the liver and symptoms are flu-like and jaundice. It’s also highly contagious. According to the CDC not washing hands with soap and water can also cause the spread of norovirus and some respiratory infections, such as adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. Changing a diaper, handling raw meat or a single gram of human feces can cause enough contamination to make people very sick. Intestinal illness caused by germs and bacteria can last for days and the symptoms can be very taxing on the human body. Dehydration is one of the bi-products, along with fatigue. Epstein Barr virus can be contracted through such bacteria. This is the very same virus which causes mononucleosis, also known as the kissing disease.
9) Antibiotic Resistance
The single most important factor in eliminating or reducing antibiotic resistance is proper hand washing. Reducing infection by proper hand washing leads to less need for antibiotic usage. Lack of hand washing, according to the CDC, is the leading cause of an antibiotic resistant super-bug. They further state, hand washing can prevent illnesses and germs which are already resistant to antibiotics. These diseases are very difficult to treat and affects people worldwide. This is especially true in countries in the world which don’t have access to clean running water. For those of us who do, there’s no excuse for not washing your hands often and properly. It’s the main defense you have against catching germs and spreading them to others. It’s also the reason you see signs in restaurants and other public restrooms which state “employees must wash hands before returning to work.”