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Poor handwashing rates are alarming.

The Nation's Health pointed to an important topic in the November 2007 issue, which is the practice of handwashing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The issue mentioned a study that found only 77 percent of men and women washed their hands in public restrooms, which is a 6 percent decline from the rate observed in a similar study conducted in 2005.

Handwashing is a relatively simple and cheap procedure. It typically involves using soap and clean, warm, running water. It starts with rinsing and soaping hands followed by rubbing hands together and washing all surfaces--wrists, palms, back of hands and fingers --for about 20 seconds, generating friction on all surfaces.

Handwashing is essentially a method of physically removing microbes, in particular, infectious agents, and thus significantly decreases the risk of transferring and ingesting a sufficient number of microbes required to establish an infection. Routine handwashing is considered the single most important measure for preventing or reducing the spread of many infectious diseases, including colds, the flu, foodborne illnesses and pet-transmitted diseases. Handwashing is part of good personal hygiene and should become a daily routine for every person. Health care personnel must be especially trained in handwashing to avoid transmitting infectious disease agents, particularly from patient to patient.

The report of declining rates of handwashing is alarming in two ways. First, there is the decline from the 2005 rate. Second, there are the findings that 92 percent of adult Americans surveyed by telephone interviews in August 2007 self-reported they always washed their hands after using a public restroom. This discrepancy between the relatively high self-reported rate of 92 percent and the actual handwashing rate of 77 percent made me wonder whether or not our current educational campaigns aimed at increasing the rate of routine handwashing are sufficient.

Christian T.K.-H.

Stadtlander, PhD, MPH, MBA

St. Paul, Minn.
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Title Annotation:LETTERS: Personal perspectives on public health
Author:T.K.-H., Christian
Publication:The Nation's Health
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:309
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