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World Hand Hygiene Day May 5 Reminds Us of Life-Saving Power of Regular Handwashing

By Clete Campbell

Soap plus water equals clean hands is the world’s most important public health formula.

For in our hands is the key to keeping millions of people worldwide healthy.

In our hands is the key to our own hygiene wellness.

In our hands is the key to stopping a life-threatening organ dysfunction.

On May 5, the World Health Organizatio0n reminds us of the life-saving power of clean hands with World Hand Hygiene Day. This year’s focus platform is preventing the spread of Sepsis, a devastating, live-threatening health care-associated organ dysfunction caused by a dysregulated host response to infection. Sepsis, estimated to affect more than 30 million patients worldwide each year, can lead to septic shock, multiple organ failure and death if not recognized early and managed properly.

Sepsis is particularly prevalent in low-and middle-income countries where it represents a major cause of maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality. Some scientific publications believe it has the epidemic potential to lead to six million deaths this year alone.

Especially alarming: Nearly 80 percent of sepsis cases are acquired outside of hospitals. This huge statistic makes personal hand sanitization habits essential to curbing its global spread.

Hand washing is a first, strong and simple do-it-yourself vaccine that not only stops the spread of sepsis in its tracks but keeps us safe of many easily contagious serious diseases, including norovirus.

This year’s World Hand Hygiene Day theme is especially essential advice for people who work in the healthcare industry: “Strengthening healthcare systems and delivery – hand hygiene is your entrance door.”

As researcher Sherry Towers tells National Public Radio, hand washing is a much more effective preventive method than waiting until an after the fact preventive measure like wiping down surfaces with a chlorine-bleach solution.

“It’s easy to miss an area and you can’t wash all surfaces – like a carpeted surface – with chlorine bleach,” Towers said. Regular, thorough hand washing with soap and water for 20 seconds or more, she says, is the best, most thorough method of prevention. However, she notes, “You can’t force people to wash their hands,” Towers said.

But we can educate ourselves, our family, our neighbors and the world about the life-saving ability and value of regular hand washing. On May 5, World Hand Hygiene Day, let’s be especially vigilant and aware that the power is in our hands.  

This year’s World Hand Hygiene Day official social media hashtag says it all: #safehands.

“When people wash their hands in the right ways at the right times, it can be more effective than medication, vaccine, or even clean water, as a single intervention against pneumonia and diarrhea,” Sam Stephens, head of Clean the World Foundation, a non-profit that provides soap and hygiene education to vulnerable communities around the world, said in a press release. “Just handwashing with soap can reduce death rates from these diseases up to 65 percent.”