February 15, 2009
By Susan Rattner
An article written for a public health class on finding a solution for a public health problem.
Almost two million people filled the National Mall on a cold January 20th, 2009 to see the historic inauguration of President Obama. Over one million people rode the Metro that day. Gloves were taken off once in the warm station causing them to leave gazillions of germs on everything from fare card machines in the stations to holding poles in the cars and the moving handrails on the sides of the endless escalators. All these germs traveled too and exposed people to infection. But mass transit doesn't have to mean massive exposure to germs. In fact a simple inexpensive waterless hand sanitizer at each station entrance and exit could cut the germ population dramatically
Concerns about fast spreading outbreaks of the flu as well as the number of flu searches recorded gave rise to Google launching a site called Google Flu Trends. This service provides up-to-date flu- related activity estimates for all 50 states and reported a bump up in the number of reported flu cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia for the week starting January 25th compared to the previous week. This was enough time feral those Inauguration bugs to infect, spread and cause symptoms.
Throughout the day, germs accumulate on your hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods, and petting animals. These germs can spread to others by simply shaking hands or touching surfaces that they also touch. If you don't wash your hands often enough, you can even infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea. While most people will get over a cold, the flu can be much more serious. Some people who get the flu, particularly older adults and people with chronic medical problems develop pneumonia. The combination of flu and pneumonia, in fact, is the eighth-leading cause of death among Americans. Since the early 1970s, researchers estimate that influenza has caused more than 40,000 deaths in the United States every year. It is estimated that flu outbreaks cost about $12 billion annually in the United States.
The common cold or rhinovirus infection also carries a risk of morbidity such as otitis media, sinusitis, exacerbations of asthma and chronic lung disease, and, in infants, serious lower respiratory tract disease. While these conditions are not usually life threatening, they do have important health and economic consequences.
The public health benefits of hand sanitizers have been well documented. A study presented in 2008 by The University of Michigan School of Public Health showed that frequently cleaning one’s hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can reduce a persons risk of contracting influenza BY 50 percent.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers — waterless and fast drying are an excellent alternative to hand washing and are more effective than soap and water in killing bacteria and viruses that cause disease. Commercially prepared hand sanitizers contain ingredients that help prevent skin dryness and using these products can result in less skin dryness and irritation than hand washing.
In 2002, the CDC updated their hand hygiene guidelines to include using an alcohol based hand sanitizer as a means to prevent infection spread. Installing these dispensers in convenient, highly visible places such as the exits from Metro stations could help to prevent transmission of infectious bacteria. It’s a small price to pay to help reduce infections and the costs associated with them and it doesn’t even require an act of Congress!
It makes sense to follow three things your mother (and your doctor) told you to do to prevent getting sick: Always wash your hands (and fruits and vegetables) before eating. Avoid touching any strange objects you come upon, try to avoid people who are sick and don’t put your fingers in your mouth. Google's website can help people identify when flu spikes occur in your area, thus providing an early warning system. And, simply installing hand sanitizer at the entrances and exits at Metro stations could provide the means to effectively clean your hands and prevent the contact spread of germs.
In a time when health care is one of the top three topics in Washington, the simple precaution of providing hand sanitizers at Metro stations would do its small but significant part to help decrease health care costs.