It's Your Health
This article was produced in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada.
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Washing your hands correctly (or using an alcohol-based hand rub) is the most effective thing you can do to protect yourself against a number of infectious diseases, such as influenza (the "flu") and the common cold. Not only will it help keep you healthy, it will help prevent the spread of infectious diseases to others.
Even if your hands appear to be clean, they may carry germs. Hands pick up micro-organisms (germs) in a number of ways.
When people who are sick sneeze or cough, the germs that are making them sick are expelled into the air in tiny droplets. If these droplets get onto your hands, and then you touch your mouth, eyes or nose without washing away the germs, you carry the infection. You can also get sick if you don't wash your hands before and after preparing food, after handling raw meat, and after using the toilet.
Washing your hands not only prevents you from getting sick, but it also reduces the risk of infecting others. If you don't wash your hands properly before coming into contact with others, you can infect them with the germs on your hands. Other people can also get sick from the germs unwashed hands leave on shared objects like doorknobs, keyboards, and other equipment in the home or workplace.
Hand-to-hand contact can spread mild conditions, such as the common cold, but also more severe or life-threatening diseases. Infectious diseases are a particular risk to the very young, the elderly, those with a pre-existing disease, and people with a compromised immune system, such as those with HIV or AIDS.
Although hand washing might seem like a simple task, you should follow these steps to thoroughly rid your hands of germs.
If you have sensitive skin or are in a position where you must wash your hands constantly (as a healthcare worker must), you might want to use an alcohol-based hand rub instead.
Using Alcohol-based Hand Rubs
Here are further steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) publishes infection control guidelines for use by the provinces, territories, and healthcare organizations.
Working with the provinces and territorial governments, non-governmental organizations and health care providers, PHAC develops evidence-based national standards and policies, promotes the exchange of information, and engages in disease prevention and promotion activities.
For more information visit the following Web sites:
Canadian Patient Safety Institute - Canada's Hand Hygiene Challenge
World Health Organization, Global Hand Washing Day
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web section. You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*
Original: April 2009
ę Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2009