from Southeastern Idaho Public Health

Hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. You can spread certain “germs” casually by touching another person. You can also catch germs when you touch contaminated objects or surfaces and then you touch your face (mouth, eyes, and nose).

Infectious diseases that are commonly spread though hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu, and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea.

Inadequate hand washing also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E.coli infection.

There are many ways that germs are spread, but these are the five most common ways:

  1. Nose, mouth, or eyes to hand to others: Germs can spread to the hands by sneezing, coughing, or rubbing the eyes, and then can be transferred to other family members or friends. Simply washing your hands can help prevent the spread of many illnesses.
  2. Hands to food: Usually germs are transmitted from unclean hands to food by an infected food preparer that didn’t wash his or her hands after using the toilet. The germs are then passed to those who eat the food. This is easily prevented by always washing your hands after using the toilet and before preparing food items.
  3. Food to hands to food: Germs are transmitted from raw foods, such as chicken, to hands while preparing a meal. The germs on the hands are then transferred to other uncooked foods, such as salad. Cooking the raw food kills the initial germs, but the salad remains contaminated.
  4. Infected child to hands to other children: Germs are passed from a child with diarrhea to the hands of the parent during diaper changing. If the parent doesn’t immediately wash his or her hands, the germs that cause diarrhea are then passed to others.
  5. Animals to people: Wash your hands after petting animals or touching any surfaces they come in contact with.

To prevent the spread of germs, follow these simple instructions for proper hand washing with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
  • Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
  • Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
  • Use a towel to open the door.

Although it is impossible to keep your hands germ-free, there are times when it is critical to wash your hands to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes:

  • After using the toilet
  • After changing a diaper
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • Before and after preparing food, especially before and immediately after handling raw meat, poultry, or fish
  • Before eating
  • After blowing your nose
  • After coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Before and after treating wounds or cuts
  • Before and after touching a sick or injured person
  • After handling garbage
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses
  • When using public restrooms

Hand washing is a cheap and simple way to stay healthy, and doesn’t take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this simple habit can play a major role in protecting your health.

For additional information on hand washing, visit,, or, or contact the Southeastern Idaho Public Health at 239-5250.