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14 Diseases You Can Prevent By Handwashing The Right Way

Hygiene basic is the key to keeping you healthy. Especially, by washing your hands, you can prevent some diseases, from simple respiratory illnesses to deadly infectious diseases. The following diseases are just a few of the ones that you can prevent with thorough handwashing.

1. Coronavirus


Washing your hands frequently and avoiding contact with high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, handles, and buttons, is one of the best ways to protect yourself from COVID-19.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), you should wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, it’s recommended to use a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

2. Norovirus

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It takes only one norovirus particle to get you sick, as opposed to between 50 and 100 particles of the flu virus. But good, old-fashioned handwashing can help to prevent the assorted gastrointestinal misery that results from a stomach bug.

In fact, it trumps both the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers (which the CDC cautions aren’t as effective against norovirus) and vigorously disinfecting surfaces. According to a study published in Royal Society Open Science, scouring surfaces only reduces transmission by a maximum of 60 percent, while handwashing – if done by a majority of people on, say, a cruise ship – could completely stop an outbreak.

3. The Flu

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The flu can be deadly – and not just to those who are very young, very old, or immunocompromised. The 2017–2018 flu season was particularly dangerous, with the CDC reporting 80,000 related deaths (including 180 children).

Aside from getting the flu shot, handwashing is a key preventive measure, especially when you’re exposed to flu germs without knowing it. Handwashing can make sure you’re not unwittingly infecting yourself.

4. Pink Eye

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When your eyes get ooey, gooey, and super itchy—and have a crusty coating on them in the morning—you probably have conjunctivitis, a.k.a. pink eye. Since people rub their eyes to alleviate the discomfort and then touch their surroundings, the virus or bacteria that cause pink eye ends up on all sorts of surfaces, where it can live for hours or even days, according to the National Institutes of Health.

5. Salmonellosis

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A big reason to wash your hands more often is that you’re touching poop particles way more than you realize. That’s exactly how salmonella gets passed around. The bacteria live in the intestines of animals and people. It’s often transmitted through infected food that hasn’t been fully cooked or washed thoroughly. When you don’t wash your hands or equipment after preparing raw meat, poultry, and fish. And when you don’t properly wash your hands after using the bathroom or changing a baby’s diapers.

It can also be transmitted by touching an infected reptile, amphibian, or farm animal, whose droppings can subsequently infect anything they touch. If you’re not diligent about hand hygiene, that could be you.

6. Hand-Foot-And-Mouth Disease

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If you have kids or work around them, handwashing can help prevent this uncomfortable infection caused by the coxsackievirus. Common in daycares and preschools, hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) causes sores on the mouth and throat, a rash on the hands and feet, a fever, and loss of appetite.

If you’re pregnant, take particular care since HFMD has been linked to a higher risk of stillbirth near the end of a pregnancy.

7. Cytomegalovirus

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Here’s another reason to be vigilant about handwashing if you’re pregnant. Good hygiene can prevent the transmission of this virus in the herpes family that can cause serious harm to your unborn child, including hearing and vision loss, intellectual disability, and even death.

8. Staph

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Caused by bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the noses of healthy people, staph can become life-threatening if the bacteria gets deep into your body and infects your blood, joints, and heart.

Things can get particularly dangerous with an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph called MRSA. If you wash your hands, you will lessen the risk of these bacteria being transmitted from person to person. Other preventive measures include keeping wounds covered and not sharing personal items.

9. RSV

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Here’s a crazy statistic from the CDC: Almost all children will have an RSV infection by the time they turn two. The thing is, you will probably just think your child has a cold. But in some children – especially those born prematurely and in people over 65 with weakened immune systems, this virus can cause breathing problems, pneumonia, bronchiolitis, and death.

In fact, it kills more than 200 children each year and 14,000 older adults. Like other respiratory illnesses, coughing and sneezing send infected droplets through the air and onto surfaces.

10. Hepatitis A

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The good news: Hepatitis A doesn’t cause chronic liver disease like its cousins B and C. The bad news: It can still make you really sick, causing gastrointestinal problems, fever, fatigue, and jaundice. In some cases, it can even cause acute liver failure and necessitate hospitalization.

You’ll likely hear about hepatitis A outbreaks at restaurants. This virus is often transmitted when someone hasn’t washed their hands after using the bathroom before preparing their food, according to the WHO.

11. Strep Throat

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While viruses often cause sore throats, if a strep test determines that yours is caused by the bacteria group A Streptococcus, you’ll need antibiotics. Not only can strep throat cause discomfort and be highly contagious to others, but in some cases, it can also lead to scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, a rare kidney disease called PGSN, and the pediatric autoimmune disease PANDAS.

According to the CDC, coughing, and sneezing spreads small respiratory droplets containing the bacteria. You can’t always stop someone from coughing or sneezing at you, but you can control your own handwashing habits.

12. Giardiasis

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While you’re worried about horrible things that can make you sick, don’t forget about parasites. Handwashing can help to prevent this particular microscopic parasite from taking up residence in your small intestine, where it will cause nausea, diarrhea, and dehydration.

13. E. coli

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We often hear about E. coli outbreaks in terms of food consumption – red meat and romaine lettuce, for example – but they can also be passed by coming into contact with an infected person or animal, according to WebMD. Also, some surprising news: You don’t need to scald your hands with hot water to kill E. coli bacteria – or any other bacteria.

14. The Common Cold

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While not as serious as these other diseases, a cold can still make you feel miserable and ruin your week. One study found that handwashing can lower your risk of catching a respiratory illness by a whopping 45 percent.

The bottom line: Hand sanitizers have their place and they’re certainly convenient. But in most situations, handwashing should generally be your first line of defense.

Reader's Digest Canada

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