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A report from the San Diego Naval Training Center shows that washing hands frequently helps prevent upper respiratory infections (1).

Extensive research shows that upper respiratory infections are spread more often by the hands than by having a sick person cough in your face. The United States Navy instituted a study in which recruits were ordered to wash their hands at least before every meal and there was a 45 percent reduction in sick call visits for upper respiratory infections.

150 years ago, a Hungarian physician, Ignaz Sammelweiss, noticed that women were less likely to die at childbirth when they were examined by a midwife than by a physician, and he showed that the difference was that midwives washed their hands (2). When you have a cold, do not shake hands and wash your hands frequently. It doesn't make any difference whether you use an expensive antiseptic lotion or just plain soap (3,4).

1) Handwashing and respiratory illness among young adults in military training. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2001, Vol 21, Iss 2, pp 79-83. MAK Ryan, RS Christian, J Wohlrabe.

2) Sammelweiss. The Understanding and Prophylaxis of Childbed Fever, pub 1861.

3) CL Cardoso, HH Pereira, JC Zequim, M Guilhermetti. Effectiveness of hand-cleansing agents for removing Acinetobacter baumannii strain from contaminated hands. American Journal of Infection Control, 1999, Vol 27, Iss 4, pp 327-331.

4) RD Jones. Bacterial resistance and topical antimicrobial wash products.American Journal of Infection Control, 1999, Vol 27, Iss 4, pp 351-363.

Checked 8/9/05

May 31st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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