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Want to Stay Healthy? Try Washing Your Hands

Dirty digits are the fastest way to communicate infectious germs, experts say

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Serena Gordon

HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Like "Turn out the lights" and "Don't slam the door," being told to "Wash your hands" is one of those universal instructions children hear every day.

But it's more than that.

Hand washing has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to stay healthy.

Why the fuss? Because after you've touched something contaminated with viruses or bacteria, your hands give germs a free ride into your body through your eyes, nose or mouth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Learn more about hand washing from the experts:

Why is it so important to wash your hands?

Simply put, washing your hands frequently and thoroughly helps keep you healthy.

"You use your hands to touch everything around you, and it's the fastest way to communicate infectious germs," said Kevin Morano, a professor in the department of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. Some common illnesses that can be transmitted via the hands include the flu, the common cold and a number of diarrheal illnesses. Remember that last stomach bug you had? You probably got it from your hands.

Regular washing of hands with soap and water could reduce deaths from diarrheal illnesses by 50 percent, according to CDC estimates.

How can you catch a cold by not washing your hands?

Germs may live on inanimate objects for an extended time. If you touch contaminated surfaces, the germs get on your hands. Eventually, you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, which gives germs access to your insides.

Where are you most likely to pick up germs?

"The top of the list is the restroom, and everything associated with the restroom," said Morano. Things like computer keyboards, phones and TV remotes may have some germs on them, he said, but most bacteria and viruses prefer warm, wet environments, like a hand towel in the bathroom.

What's the right way to wash your hands?

"The proper way to wash your hands is with lots of soap and warm water for as long as you have the patience for, but aim for at least 20 to 30 seconds," Morano said. "If you can sing the 'Happy Birthday' song twice, you've washed long enough."

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