Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.

Here are the reasons why...

Germs Are Everywhere!

  • There are many types of germs (viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi) that can cause a variety of illnesses, including the common cold or flu, and foodborne illness. These germs can spread easily from one person to another and have wide-reaching effects.
  • One of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their noses or eyes after touching someone or something that's contaminated with germs.
    • CDC estimates that between the 2010–11 and 2019–20 flu seasons, flu caused between 2.9 and 13 million flu illnesses each season in children aged 0–17.1
    • CDC estimates that between the 2010–11 and 2019-20 flu seasons, flu caused between 10,000 and 50,000 flu hospitalizations each season in children aged 0–17.1
    • Flu deaths in children have been nationally reportable since 2004. Between 2004–05 and 2019–20, flu-related deaths in children reported to CDC during regular flu seasons have ranged from 37 to 198 deaths.2
    • During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, from April 2009 to September 2010, 358 flu deaths in children were reported to CDC.2
    • Influenza causes more hospitalizations among young children than any other vaccine-preventable disease.3
  • Foodborne illnesses are often spread when people consume contaminated food and water or touch contaminated surfaces (or food) and put their unwashed hands in their mouth. In fact, certain germs can live on surfaces like cafeteria tables and doorknobs for up to two hours.4
  • Norovirus—a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea—can stay on objects and surfaces and still infect people for days or weeks.5
  • Salmonella infections are responsible for nearly 1.4 million illnesses each year.6

Illnesses Impact Students, Teachers, and Families

  • Infectious disease accounts for millions of lost school days and costs the U.S. $120 billion each year.7
  • Diarrhea is second only to the common cold as a cause of lost working time, with about 25 days lost from work or school each year for every 100 Americans.8, 9
  • Teacher illness costs time and money — not to mention the negative effects that teacher absences may have on student learning. In fact, teachers can be absent from school more days a year than students. One study found that teacher illness-related absences averaged 5.3 days a year, in contrast to an average of 4.5 days a year for students.10
  • At least 34 people out of every 100,000 per year died of infectious disease causes between 1980 and 2014.11
  • In 2019, influenza and pneumonia were among the top 15 causes of death in the U.S.12

Hand Hygiene Education Is Key

  • Research suggests that it is important for hygiene lessons to be repeated throughout the K–12 school curricula. While keeping hands clean and other hygiene habits are generally learned during early childhood, people need to be regularly reminded of the critical role clean hands can play in our health, and to wash them as often and as thoroughly as possible.13, 14
  • Yet hand cleaning behaviors need improvement. 92% of participants said they always wash their hands in public restrooms, but only 77% were observed doing so.15

Clean Hands Keep Students Healthy

  • One study involving Detroit school children showed that scheduled handwashing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50%.16
  • A case-control study of 6,080 schoolchildren showed that those who used classroom-dispensed, instant hand sanitizers at specific times during the day, in addition to normal hand cleaning habits, experienced 20% fewer absences due to illness.17
  • A four-week handwashing program for a class of first grade students was associated with fewer absences and prescribed antibiotics than were reported the previous school year.18

So, there you have it—clean hands are key to good health for the whole school community!

  4. Scott E, Bloomfield S. The survival and transfer of microbial contamination via cloths, hands, and utensils. Journal of Applied Bacteriology. 1990;68:271-277.
  8. Meers PD, Ayliffe GA, Emmerson AM, Leigh DA, Mayton-White RT, Mackintosh CA, Stronge JL. Report on the national survey of infection in hospitals. Journal of Hospital Infection, Supplement. 1981;2:1-11.
  9. USDA. Foodborne Illness Cost Calculator. 2016.
  10. Ohlund LS, Ericcson KB. Elementary school achievement and absence due to illness. Journal of General Psychology. 1994;155:409-421.
  11. Bcheraoui C, Mokdad AH, Dwyer-Lindgren L. Trends and Patters of Differences in Infectious Disease Mortality Among Us Counties, 1980-2014.
  13. Brantley PJ, Mosely TH, Bruce BK, McKnight GT, Jones GN. Efficacy of behavioral management and patient education on vascular access cleansing compliance in hemodialysis patients. Health Psychology. 1990;9(1):103-113.
  14. Conly J, Hill S, Ross J, Lertzman J, Louie T. Handwashing practices in an intensive care unit: The effects of an educational program and its relationship to infection rates. American Journal of Infection Control. 1989;17(6):330-339.
  15. American Society of Microbiology & the American Cleaning Institute. 2007 Handwashing Survey.
  16. Master D, Longe SH, Dickson H. Scheduled hand washing in an elementary school population. Family Medicine. 1997;29(5):336-339.
  17. Hammond B, Ali Y, Fendler E, Dolan M, & Donovan S. Effect of hand sanitizer use on elementary school absenteeism. American Journal of Infection Control. 2000;28:340-346.
  18. Day R, St. Arnaud S, Monsma M. Effectiveness of a handwashing program. Clinical Nursing Research. 1993;2(1):24-40.