Dirty Hands Can be Scary! is a hand-hygiene campaign designed by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, in conjunction with the City of St. Louis Health Department to promote and educate on the importance of hand-washing, and to prevent the spread of disease. It was developed primarily to show how something as simple as washing your hands for 20 seconds, can help prevent respiratory illnesses, diarrheal illnesses, foodborne illnesses and travel-related illnesses.
“Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16%.”1
Respiratory infection is a leading cause of seeking medical care, and occurs in up to 20% of all travelers.2 Practicing proper hand-hygiene and general cleanliness has been listed as a top preventative measure.
“Viral pathogens are the most common cause of respiratory infection in travelers; causative agents include rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, parainfluenza virus, human metapneumovirus, measles, mumps, adenovirus, and coronavirus.”2
CDC’s Top 14 Vaccine-Preventable Diseases for Infants and Children
While diarrheal illnesses may not sound like a serious problem, the statistics show quite the opposite, and the mode of transmission for these illnesses should be disturbing enough to make everyone want to wash their hands before every meal.
Most diarrheal illnesses and deaths are preventable by simple interventions, such as washing your hands. Roughly 88% of deaths associated with diarrheal illnesses are a result of inadequate sanitation, insufficient hygiene, and unsafe water.1
“Most diarrheal germs are spread from the stool of one person to the mouth of another. These germs are usually spread through contaminated water, food, or objects.”1
A good majority of diarrheal germs are spread from lack of hand-washing after using the bathroom. It is especially important for those preparing food to wash their hands before cooking.1
“A single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs.”1
Check the CDC’s webpage on diarrheal illness for additional information.
It is important to remember that all raw foods have the potential to be contaminated and can carry intestinal pathogens. This includes undercooked meat, fish, and shellfish. A common mode of transmission for foodborne illness is through lack of sanitation and proper hand hygiene2. For example, this can occur after preparing raw meat, such as chicken, and then continuing to prepare other foods, such as salads, fruits and vegetables, or deserts without washing your hands.
“A large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands. Appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.”1
“CDC estimates that each year roughly 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.”1
Check the CDC’s webpage on foodborne illness for more information.
Travelling, whether it be domestic or international, can have serious consequences if a person is not careful. It is important to research your destination and make sure you are taking the proper precautions in preventing potential infection of any disease in that area. This is especially important if you are travelling to, or within areas that may not have the same access to health care, such as underdeveloped countries, or even travel by cruise ships.
Recently occurring illnesses in travelers caused by the Norovirus had been primarily responsible for acute gastroenteritis throughout the United States. The virus had caused 19-21 million illnesses, 56,000-71,000 hospitalizations, and 570-800 deaths each year, according to the CDC, and can be serious in young children and older adult.1
“Reported outbreaks are usually associated with common exposure in hotels and cruise ships or among tour groups. A few pathogens have been associated with outbreaks in travelers, including influenza virus, L. pneumophila, and Histoplasma capsulatum.”2