HPA Welcomes Global Handwashing Initiative

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The Health Protection Agency has welcomed this year's Global Handwashing Day initiative which aims to raise awareness about the role handwashing plays in public health.

Professor Mike Catchpole, Director of the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections, said:

"It is well known that hand washing is one of the most important ways of controlling the spread of infections, especially those that cause diarrhoea and vomiting, colds and flu.

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"Global Handwashing Day serves as a timely reminder that people should always wash their hands after using the toilet, before eating or handling food, and after handling animals. And remember to cover all cuts and scratches with a waterproof dressing."

The Health Protection Agency's monitoring of infections over recent weeks suggests that cases of norovirus - the winter vomiting bug - are rising and that the annual norovirus season is likely to have begun. Norovirus is the most common cause of gastrointestinal disease in the UK with peak activity in terms of numbers of cases and outbreaks during the winter months, from October to March. It has been estimated that between 600,000 and a million people in the UK are affected each year.

Professor Catchpole said: "Norovirus is highly infectious and easily spread in settings where people are in close contact with one another so good hygiene, including frequent handwashing, is really important.

"Unfortunately there is no specific treatment for norovirus apart from letting the illness run its course. Thankfully most people will make a full recovery within 1-2 days but it is important to drink plenty of fluids during that time to prevent dehydration especially in the very young or elderly."

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