If you're in a hurry, washing your hands after using the restroom may seem like more of an inconvenience than it's worth. In fact, even though nearly every bathroom in America provides soap and water, we don't always choose to use them on our hands. However, washing your hands is the very best way to keep yourself, and the people around you, from getting sick.
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How Germs are Transmitted
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety states that viruses and bacteria can be transferred from one person to another with a simple touch. You can also catch germs when you touch a contaminated object and then touch your face. When you use the restroom, you can come in contact with particularly nasty germs, including those that transmit the stomach flu or gastroenteritis.
What we normally refer to as the "stomach flu" is actually viral gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines that is caused by a virus. Gastroenteritis can cause cramping, pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and many other discomforts. For small children, this can be very dangerous, sometimes even deadly. The viruses that cause gastroenteritis may show up in contaminated food or water, and if you're infected, you'll get sick within four to 48 hours.
The best way to prevent the stomach flu is to wash your hands, and your food, properly. In particular, it's important for kids and adults to wash their hands after using the restroom.
Plenty of other germs can be transmitted via unwashed hands and contaminated surfaces. KidsHealth from Nemours lists the common cold, meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza and hepatitis A as illnesses you can catch from physical contact with another person or object. According to the Clean Hands Coalition, some viruses and bacteria can live for up to two hours on a surface. Even if your hands are clean, if the person using the restroom before you was infected, he can leave behind his illness for you to catch.
Kids and Handwashing
Handwashing is especially important for young people. Schools are often the centers of gastroenteritis breakouts. Every year, 52.2 million cases of the common cold infect Americans under age 17. The Clean Hands Coalition reports that only around 50 percent of middle and high school students wash their hands after using the restroom. However, if kids wash their hands four times daily, it can reduce gastrointestinal illness by over 50 percent. Helping your child or teenager to wash her hands regularly can save your entire family from illness.
It's not enough to rinse your hands or wash them quickly. To truly remove the risk of infection, you should wash with warm running water and soap, scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds and up to a full minute. Scrub all the surfaces of your hands, including your wrists, between your fingers, under your nails and over the back of your hands. Once you've cleaned your hands well, use a towel to open the door and leave the restroom immediately.