Happy Birthday to Hand-washing

July 1 is the birthday of Hungarian physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis who was an early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. Thanks to Semmelweis, millions of lives have been saved by practicing and preaching good hand-washing techniques.

There are many times during our busy days that we neglect the small tasks in life, but as Richard Lampe, M.D., Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Department of Pediatrics, explains, the chore of washing your hands should become a habit.

“Hand-washing is the single-most important thing that anyone can do to prevent disease,” Lampe said. “Both to prevent catching things and also to prevent transmission of disease to others.”

Bacteria and viruses can be spread easily. Diseases like Hepatitis A, Shigella and meningitis can be prevented by washing your hands. Lampe says that using expensive antibacterial soap isn’t necessary, regular soap will suffice. Also, hand-cleaning products or gels currently on the market that clean your hands without soap and water do just as good of a job as conventional hand-washing. But if you have soap and water available, this is always best.

“Antibacterial soap in a routine household situation is not called for and in fact may be somewhat dangerous. Because there’s some research that indicates too much use of antibiotics and antibacterial chemicals may cause overgrowth of other bacteria and other organisms that are not susceptible to antibiotics,” Lampe said.

Just rinsing does not properly cleanse your hands. Bacteria are still present. So your hands may not be as clean as you think.

“To be as effective as you can in washing your hands, it’s not just the soap you use and the amount of lather you generate it’s the fact that you need to rub your hands together for at least 10 seconds,” he said.

In honor of Semmelweis’ birthday and his discovery of the etiology and prevention of disease through advocating chlorine hand-washing, remember to wash your hands. In fact, singing “Happy Birthday” to yourself while you lather with soap and warm water will ensure you scrub for the proper amount of time.

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