This past Sunday, May 5 was the World Health Organization’s national Save Lives: Clean Your Hands campaign. Given that there are hundreds of communities across the globe that still suffer from little to no access to clean water, it is not surprising that hand washing in other parts of the world is not second nature. What is surprising is that, in countries like America and Canada, hand washing is still not always second nature and is still falling behind when it comes to preventing the spread of bacteria and infection.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand washing is the best way to prevent infection and illness. Hands come in contact with bacteria and other contaminants constantly. Regardless of where we live, in New York City or Timbuktu, we come across bacteria when using the restroom, touching common surfaces, in the kitchen, or by a simple handshake.
When we fail to wash our hands, we leave our immune systems open to a bacterial attack and pose a threat to others.
Being from a developed country, many often think, “Thank goodness that doesn’t happen where I’m from.” However, as we maneuver through our days and come in contact with thousands of people who have touched thousands of surfaces, and hundreds of foods – we’re counting on each and every one of them to have practiced safe hand washing procedures. Not only that, we’re counting on every person they’ve come in contact with.
I’m not sharing this information to turn you into a germaphobe, but simply to help educate and encourage you to spread awareness of this importance issue. Washing your hands may seem like a small thing and not crucial if you forget but it could mean the difference between you or somebody else from staying healthy or getting (sometimes dangerously) ill.
Here are some of the dangers associated with not washing your hands frequently:
Salmonella can be found in uncooked eggs or raw poultry and spread to other foods through contaminated hands. Handling raw chicken, for instance and then tearing lettuce without washing in between allows the bacteria to transfer from hand to vegetables. For this reason, it is always important to thoroughly wash your hands after handling any uncooked eggs or raw poultry. Salmonella poisoning can result in extreme stomach pains, diarrhea,
nausea and vomiting. In elderly people, or those with a weakened immune system, it can be even more dangerous.
Influenza (or the flu) has several debilitating signs and symptoms such as chills, fever, exhaustion, runny nose, aching muscles, dehydration and diarrhea. When left untreated, influenza could also lead to pneumonia, which is can have very severe consequences on ones personal health and well-being. While the flu is spread through the air, germs are also transferred through hand-to-hand contact. For instance, if a person were to cough into his or her hands, decide not to wash, and then touch someone else’s hands, the germs will spread from one person to the next. This could easily be avoided through frequent hand washing – especially when someone is experiencing symptoms attached to an illness or condition has been labeled as contagious.
E. coli Poisoning
E. coli is a bacterium that is spread from contaminated stool. Sound like an unappealing way to find yourself in contact with bacteria? It is. When a person uses the washroom, and neglects proper hand washing procedures afterwards, he or she can pass along E. coli through food, surfaces, or hand-to-hand contact. Ingesting E. coli bacteria will cause severe diarrhea for approximately a week. This will also result in dehydration, which is a great cause of concern in many less fortunate countries and communities.
It’s not being dramatic to say that improper hand washing can actually have fatal consequences. In certain circumstances (usually to do with health care facilities, long term care centers, or in situations that involve medical procedures) bacteria may be introduced from unwashed hands into the bloodstream, causing a severe systemic infection that could be fatal. Washing hands really does save lives.
Holistic health isn’t a complicated matter, but it does require common sense. If we’re making well-balanced, nutritional choices, exercising regularly, ensuring optimal vitamin, mineral and essential fatty acid intake – and then choosing not to practice proper hand washing procedures – then we’re still miss an important step in achieving optimal health and well-being. Take the time to wash your hands thoroughly and encourage others to do the same. Don’t be shy in encouraging health care practitioners, food handlers, the children in your life – or anyone for that matter – to wash their hands and protect not only themselves, but those around them.