There are few things more cringe-worthy than watching someone wipe their nose with their hand or leave a bathroom stall without washing, but it happens all the time.
And while some may argue that skipping the sink strengthens their immune system, nothing could be further from the truth, according to Jamin Brahmbhatt, a physician at Orlando Health.
“Washing your hands is the easiest way to protect yourself and others from spreading bugs that can live on your hands,” Brahmbhatt said.
Your hands will become a free-ride for bacteria and viruses
“Our hands can be vectors that help transmit bacteria and viruses from one place to another,” according to Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention at the Johns Hopkins Health System.
Throughout the day, people pick up bacteria and germs when they touch their face, nose, mouth, and dirty surfaces, Maragakis said. Handwashing interrupts the transmission of disease from one person to another or from all the surfaces we touch to ourselves or others.
“If we stopped washing our hands we wouldn’t be interrupting the transmission, so it would give bacteria and viruses more opportunities to use our hands as a way to be moved from one place to another and cause more illnesses,” Maragakis said.
You’ll probably get sick, or spread an illness to someone else
The decision to stop washing your hands will have an effect on your health and the health of others around you, according to Brahmbhatt.
“Washing your hands is the easiest way to protect yourself and others from spreading bugs that can live on your hands,” Brahmbhatt said. “We can get germs on our hands by touching other parts of our body, sneezing or coughing, touching other people or things like animals or meat.”
While we all have bacteria that lives on our skin, other bacteria and viruses are picked up through the environment, according to Maragakis. She notes that people can pick up feces in the restroom, which may end up on hands and in our food, leading to gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Likewise, whatever you picked up in the bathroom could also result in conjunctivitis, or pinkeye.The CDC also notes that handwashing is an important factor in stopping the spread of viral infections like the flu or colds.
Maragakis notes that a good example of the importance of handwashing can be found in multiple cases of illness spreading on cruise ships.
“Anyone who has taken a cruise knows how important hand hygiene is,” she said. “Cruise ships have had well-publicized outbreaks of Norovirus and now take extraordinary measures to make sure everyone cleans their hands regularly or uses alcohol gel to prevent disease like that from being passed.”
Your hands will look dirty
If you’re not concerned about getting sick or passing a disease on to others, perhaps pure vanity will do the trick.
In addition to spreading bacteria and illness, your hands would look dirty and smell as dirt and grime accumulate under your nails.
Even if you wash your hands, you’re probably doing it wrong
The CDC recommends washing hands not only after using the restroom, but before and after preparing food, before eating, before and after caring for a sick person, and after touching an animal or animal waste.
Here are five steps from the CDC on how to effectively wash your hands:
— Wet your hands with running water, cold or warm and turn off the water.
— Lather your hands with soap. Make sure to get your entire hand, between your fingers and under the nails.
— Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
— Rinse your hands under running water.
— Dry your hands using a clear towel or air dry them.
Don’t have water? You can use an alcohol based sanitizer to clean your hands.
Mary Bowerman, USA TODAY Network