Personal hygiene begins and ends with our hands. And though we’re taught as youngsters to wash our hands before dinner, it’s important to remember that germs don’t care what time of day it is. Clean hands prevent sickness. So it’s especially important to learn the basics about hand hygiene so that you, too, can become a champion hand washer! Let’s examine some handy (see what we did there?) tips and info in honor of National Handwashing Awareness Week, which takes place each year during the first week of December.
National Handwashing Awareness Week timeline
A breakthrough safety process begins
Frenchman Louis Pasteur begins researching causes and prevention of disease, leading to his breakthroughs in vaccination and what came to be known as pasteurization.
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis is born
Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis, a pioneer in and advocate for antiseptic procedures, is born in Hungary.
- C. 1807
Microorganisms are found
Italian entomologist Agostino Bassi discovers that microorganisms can cause disease.
Germ theory begins
Italian scholar and poet Girolamo Fracastoro suggests that epidemics are caused by small particles or "spores" that can be transmitted from one person to another.
- C. 400 BCE
Thucydides has a breakthrough moment
The ancient Greek historian Thucydides is the first to suggest that disease can spread from one person to another.
National Handwashing Awareness Week Activities
Do it right
Experts recommend washing your hands with soap and clean water for at least 20 seconds. Be sure to get a good lather going and clean the back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails. Dry them using a clean towel. There is a lot of science behind these recommendations, so be sure to follow them each time you wash your hands.
Memorize the five steps
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls hand washing "a do-it-yourself vaccine" and suggests remembering five easy steps: Wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry.
Learn the Four Principles of Hand Awareness
Endorsed by the American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians, the four principles are: 1) Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating; 2) Do not cough into hands; 3) Do not sneeze into hands; and 4) Don't put your fingers in your eyes, nose or mouth.
5 Super Clean Facts About Hand Hygiene
Handwashing equals happiness
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 infections, including the flu.
Beware the twin killers for kids
About 1.4 million children under age 5 die from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia — the two most deadly afflictions for children worldwide.
The dirty secret of public restrooms
The CDC also reports that only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women washed their hands after using a public restroom.
Handwash your way to health
Using antibiotics creates antibiotic resistance. Handwashing prevents many sicknesses, so people need less antibiotics. Therefore, less antibiotic resistance.
Sneezes are mini hurricanes
A typical human sneeze exits the body at about 200 miles per hour and emits around 40,000 droplets into the air.
Why We Love National Handwashing Awareness Week
Healthy hands are happy hands
And happy hands make for happy and healthy homes.
It helps prevent the spread of germs
Think of how many different things we touch during the course of an average day. Now imagine how many of those things were touched by other people's hands. Yuck! Wash your hands to prevent the spread of dangerous microbes.
Let's shake on it
Finally, we love National Handwashing Awareness Week because it reminds everybody else — especially doctors and those who prepare the food we eat — to take cleanliness and hygiene seriously.