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Staph, Strep, E coli, oh my!

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Cell phones, keyboards, remotes and kitchen sponges, all things considerably dirtier than the toilet in your own home. Why then, do we typically only think to wash our hands after using the restroom?

Maj. Steven Dezell, 21st Medical Group Laboratory and Radiology flight commander, says that because bacteria and viruses rely heavily on people as a means of transport, the best way to curb these free-loaders is by simply washing our hands. National Hand Washing Awareness Week is Dec. 4-10, and Dezell wants to remind everyone the importance of properly washing hands.

"Many diseases can be spread by not washing hands properly," said Dezell. "Some examples include viruses that cause common colds or the flu, or some viral hepatitis diseases."

Dezell added that bacteria like salmonella, E.coli, or superbugs like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) can also be transmitted in this manner.

"In a bedded hospital setting, annually, about 28 to 45 billion dollars is spent to treat infections acquired while a patient is staying in a hospital for another reason," said Dezell. "That accounts for 1.7 million patients and 99,000 deaths per year. It may not necessarily be poor hand washing (directly causing these infections), but ... general cleanliness."

"Every situation is different. Bacteria and viruses are everywhere," said Dezell. Most are good bacteria and viruses, but once in a while bad ones can be out there.

"So as a rule I suggest washing hands when you get to work, after using the bathroom, before eating, and after work," said Dezell. "You can also use hand sanitizer if necessary."

Although hand sanitizers are a suitable substitute, Dezell recommends washing your hands if they are visually soiled.

"If everyone did their part and washed their hands I would say there would probably be a 20 percent reduction (of patients) and maybe even more during the flu season," said Dezell.

Anyone who would like additional information regarding proper hand washing guidance and general information regarding how to prevent and reduce the spread of infectious diseases, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at http://www.cdc.gov/.

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