From Our 2008 Archives

Regular Hand-Washing Can Prevent Against Colds, Flu

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Fewer Americans are regularly washing their hands, even though it's one of the best ways to prevent colds and flu, says the fourth annual Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) Clean Hands Report Card.

"Americans should prepare for the onslaught of the cold and flu season. Cleaning your hands regularly throughout the day can help keep you out of the doctor's office or the emergency room," Nancy Bock, SDA's vice president of education, said in an SDA news release. The group has designated Sept. 21-27 as National Clean Hands Week to raise awareness of the need.

The report card, based on a national telephone survey of 916 people conducted in August, gives Americans a C-minus for their hand hygiene habits, the same score they had in 2006.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Only 85 percent of respondents said they washed their hands after going to the bathroom, down from 92 percent in 2006.
  • 46 percent said they wash their hands 15 seconds or less. Fifteen to 20 seconds of hand washing with soap is recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the SDA.
  • 39 percent of respondents said they seldom or never wash their hands after coughing or sneezing, compared to 36 percent in 2006.
  • 35 percent said they don't wash their hands before eating lunch, compared to 31 percent in 2006.
  • 37 percent wash their hands fewer than seven times on an average day.
  • Only 56 percent of respondents knew that hand washing is the most effective way to prevent colds.

Teachers are one group that does understand the importance of hand washing, suggests a separate survey conducted during the 2008 National Education Association Expo in Washington, D.C., the SDA said. The survey of 230 teachers found that 97 percent knew that washing hands is the best way to prevent colds and flu, and 91 percent always or frequently clean their hands before eating lunch.

The SDA outlined how to wash hands to effectively remove germs:

  • Wet hands with warm running water before applying soap.
  • Rub hands together to make a lather. Do this away from running water so the lather isn't washed away.
  • Wash the front and back of your hands, between your fingers and under the nails. Wash for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Rinse hands well under warm running water.
  • Dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer.
  • Hand sanitizers or hand wipes are useful alternatives if soap and water aren't available for washing your hands.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: The Soap and Detergent Association, news release, Sept. 18, 2008

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