Handwashing with Soap: A Safe and Effective Way to Prevent Infections

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a proposed rule seeking additional evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of certain active ingredients used in consumer hand sanitizing products. Hand hygiene is vitally important for preventing the spread of infection, and as consumers increasingly choose hand sanitizers as a convenient hand cleansing option, it is important that these products are effective and pose no long-term health risks.

While this proposed rule may have some consumers questioning their use of hand sanitizers, the fact remains: handwashing with soap and water is one of the best ways to stop the spread of infections, as it is both safe and effective when practiced at key critical times, such as before contact with food and after using the restroom.

Not only can a good handwashing habit help consumers in the U.S. avoid illnesses such as influenza, but handwashing can also save lives. Globally, 1.7 million children under the age of five die each year from diarrhea and pneumonia—two illnesses that can be significantly prevented by handwashing with soap. Despite the strong positive impact handwashing can have on public health, in too many circumstances it isn’t practiced or the proper supplies are not available. For instance, a recent UNICEF and WHO study of healthcare facilities in 54 low- and medium-income countries found that only 35% had soap and water for handwashing.

The Global Public-Private Partnership for Handwashing (PPPHW) seeks to change this. As a coalition of international stakeholders that promote handwashing with soap as a way to improve public health globally, the PPPHW recognizes hygiene as a pillar of international development and works to improve both access to handwashing resources and knowledge through advocacy and capacity building efforts. For more information on the importance of handwashing or the work of the PPPHW, please visit www.globalhandwashing.org.

Tags: FDA, habits, hand sanitizers, handwashing with soap