October 15 marks the tenth annual Global Handwashing Day, according to the Global Handwashing Partnership, launched to increase awareness and understanding of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent disease around the world.
Approximately 1.4 million children under the age of 5 years die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which are the top 2 causes of death among children around the world, reports the United Nations Children’s Fund. Yet handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhea and respiratory infections among children in this age range by about 30% and 20%, respectively, according to another study.
Effective handwashing has 5 steps, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap, including the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and under the fingernails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, or for the length of “Happy Birthday” sung twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or by air drying them.
People should wash their hands before during, and after preparing food and before eating; before and after caring for someone who is sick or treating a cut or wound; after using the toilet, changing diapers, or cleaning a child who has used the toilet; after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing; after touching an animal, animal feed, pet food or treats, or animal waste; and after touching garbage.
If soap and water are unavailable, the CDC recommends use of a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol. However, the CDC notes, sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, and they might not remove harmful chemicals. Also, they aren’t as effective when the hands are visibly dirty or greasy. Like soap, though, sanitizers should be rubbed over all of the surfaces of the hands and fingers until the hands are dry.