Health Watch -- Preventing Infection

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

You don't have to wear a surgical mask to lower your risk for infection.

Recent news reports of a mysterious, deadly disease and images of people wearing surgical masks as they go about their daily routine can be frightening. But you don't have to stay at home or wear a mask to lower your risk for catching a disease. You can just wash your hands.

Quite often, the path that disease-causing viruses and bacteria take into your body is on your hands. You touch a contaminated surface, then touch your face around your eyes and mouth, and that carries the germs into your body. Dr. Paul Pepe, an emergency medicine specialist at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, says regular hand washing is the simplest thing you can do for your health.

Washing your hands several times a day can prevent many simple infections and even some illnesses like colds and flu. A recent study of naval recruits found that the infection rate for colds and flu dropped 45 percent when recruits washed their hands five times a day.
Use warm water and soap, and rub your hands vigorously for at least 30 seconds. It's especially important to wash your hands after using the bathroom or working in the kitchen.

Hand washing won't provide 100-percent protection against getting sick. If you have a lot of contact with someone who's sick, you still may catch their illness. But washing your hands could help lower your chances of getting sick, and it doesn't take that much extra effort.