This week is National Handwashing Awareness Week. We have all been told from an early age that washing our hands was a good idea…but do you know why? It turns out that, aside from your mother’s nagging, there is actually real science to back up handwashing.

Bodily waste from people or animals is a source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli and norovirus that cause diarrhea, and it can spread respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. These kinds of germs can get onto hands after people use the toilet or change a diaper. But they can also infiltrate our lives through less conspicuous means such as handling raw meat that may have trace amounts of feces on it. A single gram of human waste can contain one trillion germs. Germs can also get onto hands if people touch any object that has germs from someone coughing or sneezing on it. When germs are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person, causing a chain reaction of serious illnesses.

Washing your hands with soap removes germs and prevents infections because people frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth without thinking twice about it. Germs from unwashed hands can get into food or drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks and make people sick. Germs from our hands also can transfer to the things we touch, exposing the people who touch them later to the harmful germs we carried.

So what is the proper handwashing method? Here are the simple steps for maximum germ removal:

  1. Use warm running water to wet your hands while rubbing them with soap.
  2. Rub your hands together being sure to lather the back of the hands and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse under running water to remove the dirt, soap and germs.

By teaching others the importance of washing their hands, and by practicing good handwashing techniques ourselves, we can keep ourselves healthy this week and all the time!