10 Childhood Diseases that Can Be Avoided with Handwashing

Did you know that many childhood diseases can be avoided with handwashing? In the following article, we'll tell you what you need to know.
10 Childhood Diseases that Can Be Avoided with Handwashing

Last update: 06 April, 2022

Many childhood diseases are transmitted by dirty hands, such as gastroenteritis and respiratory diseases. Year after year, these conditions represent the main causes of morbidity and school and work absenteeism. Fortunately, there are many childhood diseases that can be avoided with handwashing.

With that in mind, in the following article, we’ll tell you why this habit is considered one of the most effective methods to stop the spread of diseases.

Childhood diseases that can be avoided with handwashing

Promoting proper handwashing is an economical and effective measure to reduce the risk of getting sick. Especially in young children, who tend to put objects or hands in their mouths, and in schoolchildren, who remain in close contact with other children and share common objects.

Numerous international health organizations have launched campaigns to make the population aware of the importance of acquiring this hygiene guideline on a daily basis. And in fact, every year, on October 15, International Handwashing Day is commemorated, at the initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Do you know what diseases can be prevented with handwashing? We’ll tell you below.

1. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thinnest, most transparent layer that covers the inner surface of the eyelid. The causes may or may not be infectious (such as allergies and chemicals) and the manifestations vary depending on the type of disease.

According to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), practicing proper handwashing is the best way to limit the spread of germs that cause conjunctivitis.

A child with pink-eye.
Conjunctivitis can be of various types, but infectious types are frequent in children and can be avoided with handwashing.

2. Chickenpox

Chickenpox is a very common childhood infection caused by the varicella-zoster virus. It’s more common in children than in adults, and its course is usually mild. However, when adults contract it, they can suffer from more severe conditions.

Among its characteristic symptoms, we can mention fever, which days later is accompanied by a skin rash that causes a lot of itching. These lesions appear as spots that turn into blisters and then scabs.

The transmission of the virus is carried out by direct contact between people, either through the skin or through respiratory secretions. These also contaminate hands and surfaces.

3. Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is a type of gastroenteritis and its symptoms begin 6 to 48 hours after ingestion of food or water contaminated with bacteria from the Salmonella group.

Some of its manifestations are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. There may even be evidence of headache and muscle pain, although these aren’t always present.

4. Giardiasis

Giardiasis is an infection of the small intestine caused by parasites from the Giardia family. It usually appears with foul-smelling, watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and flatulence. Unlike the previous case, these cases of gastroenteritis tend to be more prolonged in time than bacterial types.

Ingestion of water contaminated with parasite cysts or direct contact with a person who carries them on their hands causes infection. Therefore, hand hygiene and environmental sanitation are key factors in limiting transmission.

Hand washing is considered one of the main methods to reduce the risk of transmission of infectious agents through the respiratory, contact, and fecal-oral routes.

5. Skin infections

Impetigo is a very common bacterial skin infection in children. The bacteria that cause it can be acquired through direct contact with another person’s lesions.

6. Pneumonia

Respiratory infections, including pneumonia, are one of the leading causes of death in children under 5 years of age. Fortunately, there’s evidence in favor of washing hands with soap and water as an effective method to prevent them.

7. Flu

The common cold or the flu are also common conditions in childhood, especially in the cold months of the year. For this reason, experts recommend rubbing your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, in order to ensure a correct cleaning of germs.

It’s best to wash all the surfaces of the hands and nails and even extend washing the wash to the wrists.

8. Cold

The common cold is transmitted directly or indirectly through the hands. This is because they’re very easily contaminated by respiratory secretions when coughing, sneezing, or wiping the nose.

According to the results of a study, handwashing can reduce the risk of upper respiratory illnesses. By removing respiratory pathogens from the hands, they’re kept from entering the body or being transmitted to other children.

9. Hand-foot-mouth disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is caused by a virus in the Coxsackie family. A child who’s infected with this germ can transmit it to other children through the following secretions:

  • Drops of saliva or nasal mucus
  • Fluid from blisters or scabs
  • Fecal matter

Infected children tend to be much more contagious during the first week of illness, so staying home from school is recommended during this period.

A chid with hand, foot, and mouth disease.
The virus that causes hand-foot-and-mouth disease is contracted by direct contact with respiratory secretions suspended in the air or present on the hands.

10. Rotaviruses

Rotavirus is spread through fecal matter, through hand-to-mouth contact, and even through contact with contaminated surfaces (such as dirty diapers or toys). It can even spread through the air if it contains infected droplets of saliva, which are eliminated by coughing or sneezing.

Consequently, when a child carries the virus, they can pass it on to their peers in a variety of ways. But its spread can be avoided with handwashing, especially after going to the bathroom.

Handwashing as a synonym of health

Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important hygiene habits to avoid children’s diseases and cut the cycle of transmission.

For this reason, let’s educate children from an early age on the importance of proper handwashing so that they and their environment always remain very healthy.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23;(1):CD004265. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004265.pub2. Update in: Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015;(9):CD004265. PMID: 18254044.
  • Rabie T, Curtis V. Handwashing and risk of respiratory infections: a quantitative systematic review. Trop Med Int Health. 2006 Mar;11(3):258-67. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2006.01568.x. PMID: 16553905; PMCID: PMC7169664.
  • Greenland K, Cairncross S, Cumming O, Curtis V. Can we afford to overlook hand hygiene again? Trop Med Int Health. 2013 Mar;18(3):246-9. doi: 10.1111/tmi.12055. Epub 2013 Jan 7. PMID: 23294417.
  • Aiello AE, Perez V, Coulborn RM, Davis BM, Uddin M, Monto AS. Facemasks, hand hygiene, and influenza among young adults: a randomized intervention trial. PLoS One. 2012;7(1):e29744. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029744. Epub 2012 Jan 25. PMID: 22295066; PMCID: PMC3266257.
  • Vivancos V, González-Alvarez I, Bermejo M, Gonzalez-Alvarez M. Giardiasis: Characteristics, Pathogenesis and New Insights About Treatment. Curr Top Med Chem. 2018;18(15):1287-1303. doi: 10.2174/1568026618666181002095314. PMID: 30277155.
  • Organización Panamericana de la Salud/Organización Mundial de la Salud. (2021) La higiene de manos salva vidas. Disponible en: https://www.paho.org/es/noticias/17-11-2021-higiene-manos-salva-vidas

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.