Hand washing: simple, yet vital to health

Hand washing: simple, yet vital to health

No one I know likes to be sick.Most people do anything they can to avoid coming down with the slightest of illnesses.

Why, oh why, then do I continue to see people walking out of the bathroom without washing their hands?

You would think this is the first thing people think about when they finish doing their “business,” but it continues to slip people’s minds.

According to a WebMD article, a survey was conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide in 2003 where 7,500 people in six airports were monitored to see if they washed their hands.

The overall result was that only 78 percent of the travelers washed their hands.

Yes, 78 percent is not bad, but it could be much better.

Maybe people just need a little reminder to do the most simple of tasks.

Why not have signs up reminding people that their health, as well as the health of those around them, is at stake?

What? We already have those?

Yes, there are signs in restaurant and supermarket bathrooms across the country, but if you read closely, you will see a problem.

These signs only address employees.

What would happen if they decided to make hand washing mandatory for all?

Would we have people staging “Germ Fest 2005” and shouting against an invasion of their privacy?

Washing your hands is not just to protect yourself from germs and other bacteria. It is also for the sake of those around you. Most sickness is contracted from touching common surfaces.

How many times a day do we touch a doorknob, shake hands, give high fives or use a computer in the lab?

Studies have shown 80 percent of Americans are likely to wash their hands before handling food, while most don’t after petting a dog or a cat, sneezing or coughing.

If they educated us more when we were younger, maybe we wouldn’t forget as often.

Actually, Dr. William Sawyer has done just that with his character “Henry the Hand.”

Henry, whose yellow color looks like it came out of an episode of “The Simpsons,” promotes a four-principle approach to hand awareness.

First, he advises people wash their hands when they are dirty and before eating.

Second, Henry advises that you do not cough into your hands because it makes it easier for you to pass germs off to surfaces or other people. He recommends you cough into your elbow to prevent the spread of germs.

Third, much like the second he tells you not to sneeze into your hands. The least anyone can do is to cough or sneeze into something.

Finally, Henry the Hand recommends that you don’t put your fingers in your eyes, nose or mouth.

Henry’s four principles of hand awareness have been endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

But it should not only be the concern of those in health professions.

Every day, regardless of whether or not we wash our own hands, we come into contact with millions of germs. They can either be airborne or on surfaces we may touch.

The 2003 Wirthlin survey, which shortly followed the SARS scare, revealed that 95 percent of men and 97 percent of women passing through the Toronto International Airport washed their hands.

After the scare began, health officials ran advertisements in all medias urging people to wash their hands and informing them of the proper way to do so.

If that simple act can have that dramatic of an effect, I can’t help but think it could work here.

All it takes is soap, water and a little bit of your time. Also, there is a wide variety of antibacterial hand wipes and hand sanitizers available for those wanting to make sure their hands are clean when they are on the go and away from a sink.

I still find it interesting that people spend hours developing and installing programs to protect their computers from viruses, yet they won’t spend the 30 or so seconds it takes to protect themselves and wash their hands.

News Editor Michael Bishop is a junior news-editorial journalism major from Providence, N.C.