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Your Hands Are About as Contaminated as a Toilet Bowl

Global Handwashing Day

In honor of Global Handwashing Day – October 15 – The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPPHW) is highlighting the importance of keeping your hands clean. A simple task done several times a day can be the difference between preventing or contracting certain diseases and infections.

According to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Queen Mary, University of London, samples taken from 300 participants found that that the level of bacteria found on hands is equivalent to the contamination of a dirty toilet bowl.

About 26% of hands tested positive for E. coli, which can cause diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory conditions and pneumonia. Pneumonia and diarrheal disease are responsible for the deaths of more than 3.5 million children under the age of five each year.

Pretty disgusting, huh? Think also about the things that your hands touch each day. The researchers also collected samples from money and credit/debit cards and found that eight percent of these contained “gross contamination.”

"Our research shows just how important handwashing is - the surprising levels of contamination that we found on everyday objects is a sign that people are forgetting to wash their hands after the toilet, one of the key moments for infection prevention," said Dr. Val Curtis from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Handwashing with soap and proper sanitation are critical to human health. 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and many people do not wash their hands at critical times notes the PPPHW.

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2012 marks the fifth year of the campaign, and the message is reaching those who need it. In 2011, 600,000 fewer children under the age of five died than in 2008, the year the celebration was launched. Handwashing with soap can reduce the incidence of diarrhea among children under five by almost 50% and respiratory infections by nearly 25%. The PPPHW says that the simple act of handwashing can be just as or more effective than any single vaccine or medical intervention.

Dr. Curtis said, "We hope that on Global Handwashing Day, people take the time to think about washing their hands with soap and make it a routine part of their daily lives."

Handwashing should take place after using the toilet or cleaning a child’s bottom and before handling food. Proper handwashing requires soap and only a small amount of water – rinsing hands with water alone is just not as effective as fecal pathogens (those that contain E. coli bacteria) lodge in the natural oils of the hands and water by itself cannot dislodge them.

Cover wet hands with soap, scrub all surfaces (including the palms, back, between the fingers, and under the fingernails) for about 20 seconds. Rinse well with running water and dry on a clean cloth or by waving in the air.

If you don’t have immediate access to soap, use a waterless antibacterial gel until you can reach the appropriate facilities. Remember, however, that these products do not actual clean soiled hands, but are better than nothing in certain situations.

A great opportunity to spread awareness and also help a good cause is to take the “Global Handwashing Day Challenge.” From today until November 15th, go to www.unicefusa.org and answer 3 short questions. Regardless if you get the answers correct or not, participating in this survey will help Kimberly-Clark raise money that will culminate in a $25000 donation to the US Fund for UNICEF in support of the Global Handwashing Initiative. You can even vote for the project you think should win the grant.

The three UNICEF initiatives are:
Bringing Clean Water Kits to Families in Emergencies. Access to clean water and proper sanitation is crucial to preventing disease following an emergency. This project provides children and families with the supplies they need to access clean water for eating, drinking and washing, to protect them from waterborne illnesses.
Improving Water, Sanitation and Hygiene in Haiti's schools. Through this effort, UNICEF provides access to safe drinking water and supplies latrines with handwashing facilities. The project not only strengthens conditions at school, but encourages students to take hygiene lessons home to share with their families.
Improving Community Hygiene in Africa. This program is designed to improve community understanding of and promote proper hygiene and sanitation practices – including handwashing with soap, the use and management of sanitation facilities, and drinking safe water. Instilling these practices will keep children safe and healthy and prevent diarrheal infections, a leading cause of death for children around the world.

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW)
The Healthy Workplace Project, www.kimberly-clark.com