Feces from people or animals is an important source of germs (and norovirus) that cause diarrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Germs commonly found on human hands can also spread respiratory infections like adenovirus and even hand-foot-mouth disease. These kinds of germs can get onto hands after people use the toilet or change a diaper, but also in less obvious ways like after handling raw meats that have invisible animal poop on them.
There's no better way to visualize just how germy our hands can be, than by pressing a dirty hand onto a petrie dish and see what grows after 24 hours. That's what IU Health demonstrated for CBS4.
Karen Irven, who works in a microlab at IU Health pressed her dirty hand in one petrie dish and a clean hand into another. Ten different types of germs and viruses were detected, including a common staphylococcus.
"Respiratory viruses, gastrointestinal viruses like the nora virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea live on the surfaces," says Irven. "If you touch that, and then you prepare food, without washing your hands, you could be infecting your whole family."
According to the CDC, people frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body though the eyes, nose, and mouth and make us sick. Germs can even multiply in some types of foods or drinks under certain conditions and make people ill. Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects like handrails, table tops or toys and then transferred to another person's hands. Now there is good bacteria. But a bad one is e coli. People exposed to e coli can become very ill.
"Outbreaks," says Irven, " usually happen when quite a few people don't hand wash. So possibly they have vomiting and diarrhea and then they touch other surfaces. Maybe ten other people touch those surfaces and we have an outbreak of norovirus."
The data for frequent thorough hand washing is clear. According to the CDC, it reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent. Hand washing reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent. And it reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16 to 21 percent.
According to Irven, washing your hands is better than using sanitizers. But use a sanitizer if you can't wash. and do wipe down grocery cart handles, gym equipment, desks and phones with an EPA certified disinfectant.