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Washing your hands is such a basic, everyday activity that you probably don't spend too much time thinking about it. Enter Global Handwashing Day — a day on which everyone should re-examine their habits.

You were in elementary school the last time somebody bugged you about washing your hands, and you certainly don't want to go back there. You know that proper hygiene habits are important, so why would anyone need to remind you?

Everyone needs a refresher course sometimes. And let's admit that there are times you don't wash your hands before eating — especially when you grab a sandwich on the go. You may even sneakily neglect to wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom. Many people never even think about handwashing after visiting a public space and touching bacteria-ridden surfaces like shopping carts, the handles on a bus, or the attractions on a playground.

Unless you wash your hands with water and soap, your hands will quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria. You may not think much of your simple bar of soap, but it's actually more effective at protecting you from disease than any vaccine. If, that is, you use it regularly and at the right times.  

October 15 marks Global Handwashing Day. This important awareness event was originally created for children and schools, but it has since broadened its focus because handwashing matters to everybody. Handwashing with soap is surprisingly uncommon in many developing countries, including Peru, Vietnam, Senegal and Tanzania. In these and other developing nations, handwashing saves lives. 

Is handwashing still a Big Deal if you live in a developed western country with universal access to clean running water, quality medical care and antibiotics? You bet!

Washing your hands with soap and water prevents diarrheal and acute respiratory infections and clean hands will keep you and others in your community healthy. Being ill sucks even if it doesn't put your life in danger, and the illnesses germs on your dirty hands can have much worse effects on more vulnerable people like young children, senior citizens and people with compromised immune systems. 

The Power Is In Your Hands — Use It!

The theme of this year's Global Handwashing Day is "the power is in your hands". It perfectly illustrates how such a simple act can make such a large difference. Not convinced? Here are the facts. 

The World Health Organization estimates that washing hands with soap and water reduces deaths related to diarrheal diseases by half, and research indicates that a million lives could be saved each year if everyone washed their hands routinely

Foodborne-disease outbreaks are often spread by contaminated hands. The simple act of washing your hands can prevent these and other infections.

By washing your hands at the right times, you can reduce your risk of respiratory infections by 16 percent.

Are you around a lot of people, leading to lots of contact with germs as well? You can keep your hands clean with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer even when you are on the go and don't have access to running water and soap. Research shows that this reduced illness-related absences among elementary students by nearly 20 percent. 

If you think death and disease don't affect you, here's another factoid for you: over half of all healthy people have Staphylococcus aureus living in their nose and throat, or on their skin. Your average person sheds 6 x 106 colony-forming units of this same bacterium. 

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