Hand-washing a vital, often neglected health practice


Harsh Singh

infographic by Alex Carranza
infographic by Alex Carranza

When junior Alp Kahveci was young, he always saw his parents wash their hands before eating food. His parents told him to do the same thing, but he ignored them thinking it was a waste of time. However, when told he could not eat before washing his hands one day, he started doing it routinely as a lesson from his parents. Kahveci said now he never forgets to do what he learnt from his childhood.

“I really realized the importance of handwashing seeing my parents do it everyday,” Kahveci said. “I thought it wasn’t necessary but when they got angry at me for ignoring them always, I felt like I was really doing something wrong, so from then, I always wash my hands.”

Recent studies by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed hand washing doesn’t only prevent the spread of germs, but it also thwarts fatal diseases from spreading among humans. Researchers in London estimated that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths could be prevented every year, according to the CDC.

Dr. Thomas Schneider, a pulmonologist at University of Missouri-Columbia, said hand washing can decrease the risk of respiratory infections.

“Believe it or not, spending 30 seconds every day rinsing your hands can lower your chances of having something as fatal as pneumonia,” Schneider said. “I think because of the amount of indirect contact that is made between people today, hand washing should just be a given. I see many patients in my clinic who come in with respiratory viruses, and I ask them, ‘do you wash your hands with soap and water every day’, and many of them respond saying no.”

While many people claim to wash their hands everyday, Schneider said only a few do it the right way. He said it is ineffective to do it the without completing the correct steps.

“It’s like driving a golf ball; if you don’t do it with the right technique, you are going no where,” Schneider said. “Therefore, it is incredibly important to wash your hands thoroughly because germs are hiding everywhere.”

Washing hands before eating food is rated as one of the most effective ways to prevent sickness by the Harvard School of Medicine. When eating food, there are many times the hands touch the mouth which is why it is so necessary to make sure the hands are clean.

Kahveci washes his hands before having breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said hand washing gives himself a sense of immunity so he never wants to skip doing it no matter where he eats.

“I think the last time I had got sick was maybe last summer,” Kahveci said. “There are certainly other reasons that prevent me from getting sick too often, but when you eat food and don’t wash your hands before, all the germs just transfer in to your body.”

Junior Michael Vu also believes  there is a strong correlation between the amount of times someone gets sick, and the amount of time someone washes their hands. He said, from his experience, he has seen many people ignore washing their hands after using the restroom or before eating lunch.

“You are at a lower risk of transmitting and being susceptible to disease if you wash your hands routinely. It’s common sense,” Vu said. “I wash my hands many times, and it only takes about 30 seconds. It’s like brushing your teeth, just do it.”

By Harsh Singh