Hand washing has become a part of our culture. Hand washing and other hygienic practices are taught at every level of school, advocated in the work place, and emphasized during medical training. According to the United States Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection.”
Throughout the day we accumulate germs on our hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, food, even animals and animal waste. Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea. While most people will get over a cold, the flu can be much more serious. Some people with the flu, particularly older adults and people with chronic medical problems, can develop pneumonia. The combination of the flu and pneumonia, in fact, is the eighth leading cause of death among Americans.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is the leading killer of children under age 5 worldwide, accounting for one out of every five child deaths. Hence, hand washing is recommended to avoid this deadly disease. More than 27, 000 children in developing countries under the age of five die every day from curable diseases. Pneumonia and other respiratory infections kill an estimated 2 million children each year. Almost three-quarters of those who die are less than a year old.
Hand washing with soap can reduce the number of pneumonia-related infections in children under the age of five by more than 50 percent, according to a study published in The Lancet. The research, conducted in Pakistan by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and P&G Beauty, a division of The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G), is the first field study to show that hand washing can actually help prevent pneumonia.
The study conducted was designed to measure the health impact of improving hand washing and bathing with soap in low-income communities with highly polluted environments. It was conducted to more than 900 households in squatter settlements over a one-year period ending in March 2003. Approximately 600 households received a regular supply of soap; half received plain soap and half received antibacterial soap. A 300-household control group received school supplies.