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Habit of Hand Washing May Be the Best Vaccine
PHOTO BY Aikawa Ke/Flickr
  • What’s possibly the best vaccine you can give your child? The habit of hand washing. 

    “Because hand washing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine,” says the Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap (PPHW) in a booklet prepared for Global Handwashing Day, a celebration participated by over 100 countries every October 15 and endorsed by the World Health Organization. 

    Hand washing with soap and water is a simple but highly effective way to prevent diseases caused by bacteria and viruses. “It protects kids from illness by getting rid of germs and protects against the spread of infectious agents to others,” pediatrician Dr. Carmina Delos Reyes told SmartParenting.com.ph.

    It can cut deaths from diarrhea by almost a half and deaths from acute respiratory infections like pneumonia by nearly a quarter, says the PPHW, and that’s a significant number. Every year 1.7 million children don’t make it to their 5th birthday because of these two fatal diseases. Acute respiratory infections, in particular, is the leading cause of death in children 5 years old and below. 

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    How hand washing prevents diseases and why soap is important
    Whenever your child touches an object that’s contaminated with disease-carrying germs, he transfers the germs to his hands. And, whenever he touches his mouth, nose or eyes or eat food with those hands, he introduces the germs into his body, and he can become ill. Hand washing during key points in the day (like before meals), and before and after certain activities “is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness,” as Mayo Clinic puts it.

    However, water alone is not enough for proper hand washing, says the PPHW. Soap is the key ingredient that breaks down germ-carrying dirt by facilitating rubbing and friction, which is a big part of what gets your hands clean. In fact, it doesn’t matter what soap you use (the job gets done as long as you know how to wash your hands properly). Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than regular soap, says the US Food and Drug Administration. Just this September 2016, the agency has banned products that contain antibacterial ingredients from store shelves in the United States as data suggests they can pose long-term health risks. 

    Because soap is important to hand washing, make sure you always have one next to the sink. Pack a small bottle of liquid soap into you and your child’s bags whenever you leave the house as well. “Proper hand washing requires soap and only a small amount of water,” says the PPHW. 

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    When to wash your hands
    As parents, we already know this (after we change diapers or clean our child's bottom come to mind). But don't forget to wash hands before you prepare food and before you treat wounds, give medicine or care for a sick member of the family. Remember to do so as well after you take out the trash.  

    For kids, it can be a long list, but these ones are the most important. 

    • After using the toilet
    • Before eating
    • After touching an animal or animal, toys, leashes and waste
    • After coughing or blowing their nose
    • After playing outside

    How to make sure you’re washing right
    “Parents must set a good example to their children when it comes to proper hand washing,” says Dr. Delos Reyes. This means showing the kids you frequently wash your hands and teaching them the proper way to go about it. Here's how it's done:

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    1. Wet hands and cover with soap. 
    2. Scrub all surfaces including palms, between fingers, back of the hand and under fingernails. Do this for a minimum of 20 seconds or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.” 
    3. Rinse well.
    4. Dry with a clean cloth or disposable towel.
    5. If possible, use a tissue or your elbow to turn off the faucet.  

    If your child is not tall enough to reach the sink, keep a step stool nearby, adds Dr. Delos Reyes. She also suggests putting up easy-to-understand hand hygiene posters near the sink that your child can follow. You can also show your little one this fun video from UNICEF to encourage her: 

    Rubbing alcohol and hand sanitizers
    According to Mayo Clinic, alcohol and alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used as alternatives when soap and water aren’t available. Choose those with at least 60 percent alcohol and make sure you apply enough product that the hands are completely wet. Then, rub all over hands until dry. Remind your child not to touch anything until the alcohol or sanitizer is completely dry, too. However, if your hands are visibly dirty, washing with soap and water is the way to go. 

    Sources: Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing with Soap, World Health Organization, Mayo Clinic

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