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Veterinarians Stress Importance Of Handwashing

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is joining other U.S. public health organizations in urging everyone to take their health into their hands by observing National Handwashing Awareness Week, December 7-13.

Created in 1999 by physician Dr. Will Sawyer due to a flu vaccine shortage in Cincinnati, National Handwashing Awareness Week is now observed across the country.

According to Dr. James O. Cook, president of the AVMA, proper handwashing can greatly reduce the spread of disease between animals and people, known as zoonotic disease.

"We are exposed to germs or expose others to germs as we go through our day, interacting with animals and other people," says Dr. Cook. "Keeping our hands free of germs through proper handwashing is often the best way to avoid getting sick or spreading diseases to other people."

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Dogs and cats, especially those that go outside, can carry germs from the environment into the home on their fur, paws, or in their mouths. Some animals, like turtles, iguanas, snakes, and lizards, often carry Salmonella bacteria. Petting zoos, farms, county fairs, and other sites that allow human contact with farm animals pose a risk for the spread of E. Coli, among other diseases. Simple hand washing can reduce that risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year 5,000 people die from food-borne illnesses. A direct link to many of these deaths is poor handwashing. In addition, there are 76 million food-borne illnesses resulting in more than 300,000 hospital admissions each year.

Dr. Cook says that it is critical to wash your hands before and after food preparation and eating, as well as after handling animals. Use soap and running water and scrub all surfaces of your hands for 20 seconds before drying with a paper towel.

If soap and water aren't available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used. Since 2002, the CDC has recommended that health care workers use these sanitizers after treating patients, and Dr. Cook has fitted his animal hospital with sanitizer dispensers outside of each exam room.

"Simple steps such as these go a long way in preventing the spread of disease among my staff and clients," said Dr. Cook.