The Importance of Hand Washing

Pamela Egan Practical Practitioner


By: Pamela Egan, FNP-C CDE



Hand washing is the best form of disease prevention



Hand washing is still the best way to prevent disease. It is the simplest and most effective way to keep from getting colds, the flu, and yes, even Anthrax. Not touching the nose or the eyes is another. Individuals with colds (rhinovirus), should always sneeze or cough into a facial tissue, and promptly throw it away. If possible, one should avoid close, prolonged exposure to persons who have colds.

Children should be repeatedly reminded of the above. With all the attention given to the treatment of disease, it can be easy to forget about the importance of hand washing.

Rhinoviruses can survive up to three hours outside the nasal passages on inanimate objects and skin. Cleaning environmental surfaces with a virus-killing disinfectant might help prevent the spread of infection. Children’s toys could be cleaned with a 1:10 bleach to water solution (also known as Dakin’s solution).

The focus of the media to date has been Anthrax and Smallpox. It would not hurt to also be informed on Botulism.

Smallpox is an acute viral illness caused by the varioloa virus. Smallpox is a bioterrorism threat due to its potential to cause severe morbidity in a non-immune population and because it can be transmitted via the airborne route. The incubation period for smallpox is 7 – 17 days. Acute clinical symptoms of smallpox resemble other acute viral illnesses, such as influenza. Skin lesions appear, quickly progressing from flat bumps to raised bumps to blisters. Other symptoms include 2 – 4 days of fever and myalgias. Rash is the most prominent on face and extremities (including palms and soles). Rash scabs over 1 -2 weeks.

Smallpox is transmitted via respiratory droplets. Patient-to-Patient transmission is likely from airborne and droplet exposure, and by contact with skin lesions or secretions. Unfortunately, there is no cure for smallpox. Antivirals have been found to be ineffective.

For those who have received the smallpox vaccination, vaccination against smallpox does not reliably confer lifelong immunity. Even previously vaccinated persons should be considered susceptible to smallpox.

All that said, the fact is that through frequent hand washing, many of the above diseases can be prevented. So people, wash your hands regularly! Washing hands is by far the fastest, easiest way to prevent against the spread of common diseases and illnesses.

This article was originally published October 29, 2001 in The St. Tammany News. > Health Articles > Disease Prevention