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Diseases Spread by Not Washing Hands

author image Sharon Perkins
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.
Diseases Spread by Not Washing Hands
Washing hands well helps prevent disease transmission. Photo Credit ceazars/iStock/Getty Images


Many viruses and bacteria infect people only when they enter the nose or mouth. People with diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route can spread the disease to nearby objects or food if they don’t wash their hands well after using the toilet. Airborne illnesses spread through droplets in the air, which land on nearby objects. Touching an infected object transmits germs to your hands; touching your nose or mouth with your unwashed hand infects you with the virus or bacteria.


Noroviruses cause gastrointestinal infections. Common symptoms of noroviruses are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Noroviruses are transmitted via the fecal-oral route and spread quickly through large groups of people in close quarters, such as cruise ships, military barracks and day care centers. Norovirus spread can be prevented by thorough hand washing after using the bathroom or changing diapers of a person infected with the disease. Frequent hand washing when in close contact with others, along with avoiding touching your nose and mouth, decreases your chance of becoming infected.

Noroviruses can also be spread by people with the virus handling food and not washing their hands after using the bathroom. Food won't taste or smell unusual, so there’s no way to know it’s infected.

Airborne Illnesses

Respiratory illnesses are spread via droplets breathed, sneezed or coughed into the air by someone with the disease. Sneezing and coughing can spread droplets as far as three feet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, which means that many droplets land on nearby objects. Common respiratory illnesses that can be spread by poor hand washing include rhinoviruses such as the common cold and influenza. Chicken pox, meningitis and Group A and B streptoccal infections are also airborne illnesses, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Nosocomial Infections

Many infections are transmitted to hospital patients from other patients or staff members by poor hand washing techniques. If hospital staff members don’t wash between patients, they carry bacteria and viruses from one patient to another. Some difficult to eradicate types of nosocomial infections include methcillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), clostridium difficile (c diff) and Vancomycin resistant enterocci (VRE). Escherichia coli (E. coli) and pseudomonas are also commonly encountered nosocomial infections.

Approximately 10 percent of hospital patients are infected with a nosocomial infection during their stay, reports Stephen Abedon, Ph.D. of the Ohio State University at Mansfield Department of Microbiology, and 20,000 people in the United States die from them each year.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral infection that affects the liver, causing jaundice, lack of appetite, abdominal pain, fever and fatigue. Hepatitis A is often spread via food contaminated by food handlers with the disease who don't thoroughly wash their hands after using the bathroom. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, digesting even microscopic traces of contaminated fecal matter causes transmission of the disease. Hepatitis A can also be transmitted through close personal contact if the person has the bacteria on her hands or other part of their body that you touch. If you wash your hands before touching your own mouth or nose, you can decrease the risk of getting the disease.

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