Fight Disease Wash Your Hands

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Amid the technological marvels of the twenty-first century, health care specialists agree that the single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease is by washing your hands. Unwashed hands are thought to be responsible for one-quarter of food-borne illnesses, including E. coli and salmonella, and are a major means of transmission for SARS, meningitis, hepatitis, and the common cold. Studies have shown that infection rates in schools and day-care centers plummet after the launch of hand-washing campaigns. The most important times to wash your hands are after using the toilet or handling a diaper, handling raw food such as chicken, sneezing or coughing into your hand, or being out in public. While anitbacterial soaps are considered no more effective than regular soaps, alcohol gels in "hand sanitizers" have received high praise for their ability to eliminate germs.

—Paula Kepos mycotoxin: poison produced by a fungus microorganisms: bacteria and protists; single-celled organisms nausea: unpleasant sensation in the gut that precedes vomiting diabetes: inability to regulate level of sugar in the blood cancer: uncontrolled cell growth incidence: number of new cases reported each year hygiene: cleanliness dehydration: loss of water electrolyte: salt dissolved in fluid immune system: the set of organs and cells, including white blood cells, that protect the body from infection white blood cell: immune system cell that fights infection mucosa: moist exchange surface within the body bacteria: single-celled organisms without nuclei, some of which are infectious enzyme: protein responsible for carrying out reactions in a cell protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet stress: heightened state of nervousness or unease malnutrition: chronic lack of sufficient nutrients to maintain health nutrition: the maintenance of health through proper eating, or the study of same calorie: unit of food energy antioxidant: substance that prevents oxidation, a damaging reaction with oxygen metabolism: the sum total of reactions in a cell or an organism metabolize: processing of a nutrient carbohydrate: food molecule made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, including sugars and starches protein: complex molecule composed of amino acids that performs vital functions in the cell; necessary part of the diet botulism is suspected. Dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting should be treated promptly with increased fluid intake or oral rehydration solutions. Sports beverages with electrolytes may be helpful. Bed rest can speed recovery, and while ill, any food consumed should be clean, easy to digest, and consumed in small amounts.

The treating physician should notify the local health department, who will then notify the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To minimize risks for food poisoning to others, the local health department should be contacted if the food was consumed at a large gathering; if the food came from a restaurant, deli, vendor, or kitchen that serves a large number of people, or if the food was a commercial product. SEE ALSO Food Safety; Organisms, Food-Borne.

Tanya Sterling Toni Martin


Mahan, L. Kathleen, and Escott-Stump, Sylvia (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition, and Diet Therapy, 10th edition. Philadelphia, PA: W. B. Saunders.

Townsend, Carolyn E., and Roth, Ruth A. (2000). Nutrition and Diet Therapy, 7th edition. Albany, NY: Delmar.

Internet Resources

Clemson Extension, Home and Garden Information Center. "Foodborne Illness: Prevention Strategies." Available from < htm> "Foodborne Illness." Available from < f-Nutrition/Foodborne/Foodill.html>

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