As seasonal flu tightens its grip in communities across the country, public health officials are reminding everyone to routinely and properly wash their hands, which is one of the simplest, most important and effective defenses against the spread of germs and disease.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, proper hand-washing can prevent up to half of all foodborne illnesses. And kids who wash their hands at least four times a day experience 24 percent fewer sick days from colds, the flu and similar illnesses, and 51 percent fewer sick days due to stomach ailments.

To encourage healthy habits and keep families safe this winter, the American Public Health Association's Get Ready campaign is launching a new initiative today aimed at promoting proper hand-washing. Throughout the next few weeks, APHA will be providing hand-washing timers that when activated play a 20-second tune reminding everyone how long it takes to thoroughly wash your hands. For a limited time, the no-cost timers and other important hand-washing materials will be available on the Get Ready website.

"With flu season here and the spread of germs and illness becoming a greater threat, proper hand-washing is one of the most important and simplest steps adults and children can take to protect their health," said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP, (E), executive director of APHA. "The Get Ready hand-washing timers are designed to teach people that it's not only important to wash your hands but to follow the right techniques in doing so."

Other Get Ready hand-washing tips include:

- wet your hands using warm water;
- rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all skin surfaces;
- be sure to rinse all of the soap off your hands; and
- when no soap and water is available, hand sanitizers can be an effective substitute until you can reach a sink.

This effort is in collaboration with the National Association of Child Care Professionals and sponsored by Colgate-Palmolive Inc.

American Public Health Association