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February 21, 2006 > Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?

Why Do I Need to Wash My Hands?

Washington Hospital staff visit local schools to promote hand washing awareness

When's the last time you washed your hands? If you can't remember the last time you properly washed your hands, imagine asking an eight-year-old the same question. According to the Center for Disease Control, washing your hands is the single most important act you and your children can do to prevent getting sick and spreading disease. In recent weeks, an outreach program staffed by Washington Hospital personnel has taken hand washing awareness directly to local elementary school classrooms.

"The mission of the program is to educate children so that they carry good hand washing habits throughout life," says Ruth Traylor, Washington Hospital's Director of Community Outreach. "Also, during this flu season, it's especially important to emphasize good hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of flu and other illnesses."

Germs are everywhere, especially in schools. Children share desks and computers and they eat with their hands on a regular basis. Think about all the things that you touched today - from the telephone to the toilet. Bacteria and viruses are all over the place. The outreach presentations focus on teaching the students to be more conscious of germs and how to avoid them.

"We tell the children when to wash their hands and show them how to properly wash their hands," says Sumedha Shende, Operations Coordinator for the Community Health Resource Library at Washington Hospital. "Teaching hand washing techniques to the children is a great way to help prevent the spread of infection in our community."

The presentations are meant to be informative and fun. In order to better emphasize the transmission of germs from a person's hands, Shende and outreach librarian, Fatana Wahab, use a special hand lotion with illuminating crystals that glow in the dark. After the children look at their hands under a dark light, the illuminated crystals (fake germs) are easily seen and they are encouraged to wash their hands and check back with the outreach staff. This demonstration helps the children become more aware of their hand washing techniques.

So when are the best times to remind children to wash their hands?

  • Before eating or touching food
  • After using the bathroom
  • After blowing your nose or coughing
  • After touching pets or other animals
  • After playing outside
  • After visiting a sick relative or friend

Proper hand washing should be done with soap and flowing water for about 15 seconds. Shende recommends singing two verses of "Happy Birthday" in your head while washing your hands to get a feeling for how long 15 seconds is. Good hand hygiene is especially important if you are around young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system.
The next time you step up to the sink and scrub up, remember these handy hints:

  • Use warm water (not cold or hot) when you wash your hands.
  • Use whatever soap you like as long as it gets you scrubbing. Antibacterial soaps are OK to use, but regular soap works fine.
  • Work up some later on both sides of your hands, your wrists, and between your fingers. Don't forget to wash around your nails. This is one place germs like to hide. Remember to sing "Happy Birthday" for about 15 seconds.
  • Rinse and dry well with a clean towel.

The Community Health Resource Library at Washington Hospital is a great place to bring your kids. The library has a wide variety of health related books, videos and DVDs that are geared specifically for children. On the last Monday of every month, the library hosts a Children's Story Hour which covers a health topic in a fun and entertaining way. The next story hour will take place on Monday, February 27 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. The library is located at 2500 Mowry Ave, Suite 100 on the ground floor of Washington West. Come and enjoy the educational experience with your family and friends! For more information, please call Sumedha Shende at (510) 494-7009 or visit the Community Health Resource Library website at
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