7 things that can happen if you don’t wash your hands

Handwashing is a simple act that you (hopefully!) do many times a day, but it’s even more important than you think.

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7 things that can happen if you don’t wash your hands
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7 things that can happen if you don’t wash your hands

You can get a serious respiratory illness 

What your mother always said is true: If you don’t wash your hands, you’re going to get sick. You can get the common cold, yes, but the risks are much more severe than that. The flu, pneumonia, adenovirus, and even hand, foot, and mouth disease are all respiratory illnesses you can develop from neglecting to wash your hands, according to the CDC. Good handwashing practices can cut the number of colds and respiratory illnesses you contract by 16 to 21 percent—that’s why handwashing is one of the 20 secrets from people who never get sick

You can get diarrhea

Diarrhea-related illnesses can strike easily in people who don’t wash their hands. Tanya McIntosh, an infection-control practitioner at the University of Kansas Medical Center, says, “Handwashing after you go to the bathroom is another key time to perform hand hygiene. Bacteria and viruses from feces (poop) can cause various diarrhea-related illnesses, including salmonella, norovirus, and E. coli 0157.” The CDC reports that the simple act of handwashing reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent.  

You can get (and give) food poisoning

 Another time when handwashing plays a key role in avoiding illness? When you’re cooking. McIntosh cites frequent washing as essential to preventing cross-contamination. “Foods such as raw meat, vegetables with dirt on them, or eggs can harbor potentially harmful bacteria that can make you sick if not handled correctly,” she says. Find out the 9 things food poisoning experts never eat.

You can infect other people

Remember, your hands are touching pretty much everything around you throughout the day. This means that when you touch a doorknob after touching your eyes, mouth, nose, or face, you’re putting whoever touches it after you at risk of picking up your germs. And likewise, when you touch that doorknob, you’re also picking up the germs of everyone who touched it before you. If that creeps you out, wait until you see the 15 everyday items that are dirtier than a toilet seat

You could be putting people with weak immune systems at risk 

According to anesthesiologist Christian Whitney, DO, a pain management consultant for Restorative Pain Solutions, “The risk of not washing your hands is that you could get exposed to potentially harmful infections and also infect others, especially young infants, the elderly, and those that are immunocompromised and susceptible to infections.” In other words, by not washing your hands after going to the bathroom, or touching potentially contaminated foods, you can create huge complications for those around you who have weaker immune systems. Minimize the risk by being vigilant about washing your hands. 

You could be contributing to antibiotic resistance 

Handwashing is the most important step in not catching an infection in the first place, so doing it regularly can reduce the number of infections that are spread—infections that are often treated with antibiotics. The CDC reports that handwashing can prevent about one-third of diarrhea-related illnesses and about one-fifth of respiratory infections. It can also reduce by almost 60 percent the spread of diarrhea-related illnesses in people with weakened immune systems. Fewer infections mean less widespread antibiotic treatment, and the overuse of antibiotics is the leading cause of antibiotic resistance. Washing your hands can also prevent the spread of difficult-to-treat illnesses from germs that have already become resistant to antibiotics. 

You could be relying on hand sanitizer too much

Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are surely beneficial in a pinch, but they shouldn’t be your go-to. According to Dr. Whitney, it’s not just the soap that kills the pathogens on your hands. “The additional mechanical action of lathering and the friction of rubbing your hands together and washing away the germs and debris is what makes handwashing more effective,” he says. “However, handwashing needs to be done properly, which means lathering with enough soap and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.” There are some pathogens that hand sanitizers are not effective against—one of them is C. difficile, which people often contract after prolonged antibiotic use. If this convinced you to go wash your hands, just make sure you’re not making these handwashing mistakes.

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The post 7 Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Wash Your Hands appeared first on Reader's Digest.

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18 things in your home that are covered with germs
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18 things in your home that are covered with germs

Sink: It’s where all your kitchen dirt goes (we hope). In fact, it’s home to as many as 500,000 bacteria per square inch. Spray it down often, clean out your food trap, and scrub with scouring powder like Bon Ami at least once a week.

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Cutting boards: Whether you’re chopping meat, veggies or fruit, your cutting board could be Ground Zero for foodborne illness. Prevent cross-contamination by dedicating one board to meats and another to produce. And always wash your board ASAP after using it—especially if you were working with raw meat. Researchers at UC Davis also recommend plastic cutting boards over wood, because they’re easiest to sanitize—they can go in the dishwasher. Clean a wooden cutting board with soap and warm water, dry it quickly, and seal it with butcher-block oil whenever you notice the wood is drying out.

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Countertops: All the action—chopping, mixing, drink-pouring—happens here, so of course they’re covered with little particles of everything. First off, cut the clutter to give crumbs and germs fewer places to hide. Then wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth after every meal.

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Fridge shelves and drawers: Your refrigerator is home to both raw and cooked foods, and if it’s disorganized, they probably come in contact now and then. Store raw meat in a plastic bag to serve as an extra barrier, and stop spoiled food from turning into science experiments by throwing it away as soon as you notice it. Another cool trick we use at our house: Empty and wipe down the shelves and drawers whenever you do a big grocery shop.

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Sponges: They’ve been banned from commercial kitchens—ban them from yours, too. But if you must use a sponge, rinse it with hot water after every swipe. At the end of every day, get it wet and nuke it in the microwave for a minute. Toss it after a few weeks (one week if you’re missing the daily sanitizing routine).

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Dish towels: If you rush through washing your hands, some germs may still be hanging out on them and you’ll transfer those germs to the dish towel. Change dish towels a few times a week, and wash them with hot water when you do the laundry.

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Makeup brushes: They touch your face every day, coming in contact with oils, bacteria and dead skin cells. Wash them with mild soap whenever you notice makeup buildup.

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Towels: Like dish towels, they pick up any germs left after a shower. Plus, if your bathroom has poor air circulation, towels may get musty if they stay damp too long. Wash them in hot water at least once a week.

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Tub: The equivalent of the kitchen sink for your bod, the tub takes in a lot of grime. Wipe it down with a microfiber cloth every day and get rid of mold spots with baking soda or vinegar. (Find dozens more ways to clean with baking soda here.)

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​​​Floor around the toilet: It gets splashed, plain and simple. For starters, make sure to put the lid down every time you flush. Clean up noticeable spots right away and scrub with bathroom cleaner at least once a week.

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Faucet handles: You touch these before your hands are clean. ‘Nuff said. Wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth.

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Toothbrush holder: It’s all about gravity: Many of the germs on your toothbrush drip into the holder. Rinse it out daily—do double-duty while you’re brushing your teeth with the other hand. Then sanitize your toothbrush holder in the dishwasher (if it can take it) or give it a good scrub with soap and water.

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Electronics: Smartphones, keyboards, mice, the remote control (OK, let’s be real: 17 remote controls)—germy fingers come in contact with them all the time. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recently found that cellphones are 10 times dirtier than toilet seats. Wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth as often as possible. Don’t forget to remove any cases so you can clean underneath.

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Doorknobs, handles and light switches: Even if your hand only touches these items for a fraction of a second, that’s enough time to transfer bacteria. Once again, a quick wipe-down with a damp microfiber cloth will do.

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Shoe rack: Footwear is a huge culprit for bringing germs into your home, so it’s no surprise that their storage unit is a bacterial breeding ground. Put some elbow grease into cleaning this one and wipe it with bathroom cleaner—you never know what somebody stepped in.

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Carpets and rugs: Even if you’re using the no-shoes rule, carpets suck up every crumb, dead skin cell and germ that hits them. Vacuum weekly and spritz high-traffic areas with a carpet sanitizer. If you can toss rugs into the laundry, do it.

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Bags: Your purse holds money (super dirty!) and your kid’s lunch bag holds food (raise your hand if you ever forget to clean it out over the weekend). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning these to keep them in the best shape.

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Toys: No matter whose toys they are—your kid’s or the dog’s—they probably spend a lot of time in somebody’s mouth. Consider what they’re made of, then clean accordingly, tossing them in the laundry, dishwasher, or wiping with a cloth.

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