When I first heard about the whole hashtag thing I thought it was rather amusing. The people who had been online since their pre-school years appeared to have no idea that the # symbol on their keyboards had meaning before Twitter was invented. The use of # as a stand-in for “number” and “pound” has become a 21st Century generation gap and bridge over it.

Of course, many automated telephone systems still refer to the “pound key” and scientific folks have been using # in front of character strings for decades. But the little symbol that looks like a drunken tic-tac-toe grid has found new life in cyberspace, going where few have gone before, taking grandchildren, grandparents and the generation between them to strange new worlds.

In an inspired move, the CDC is capitalizing on the cross-generational power of the # to keep Global Handwashing Day front of mind for longer than 24 hours. 

“Join us in a conversation about the importance of handwashing by sharing your own #HandwashingHeroes picture or video beginning on Global Handwashing Day, Oct. 15” according to an open invitation the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted yesterday.

The launch of the handwashing hashtag is part of the 10th annual global effort to reduce illnesses, including foodborne illnesses, by raising awareness about the effectiveness of proper handwashing in the fight against bacteria, parasites and viruses. The CDC has posted reports by hundreds of scientists on the topic of handwashing. Take a look by clicking here.

But, no matter how much the nerd in me wants everyone to understand the science behind everything, I know thousands of pages of peer-reviewed research isn’t the best way to get the word out about anything.

That’s why my hat’s off today to the savvy people behind the scenes at the CDC who created such a powerful package for the 10th annual Global Handwashing Day. Many of the materials are available in multiple languages. 

These are just two of the many age-specific posters available for free from the CDC.

Join the campaign
Post a photo of yourself or others on social media showing your clean hands and tell the world why it’s important for you to wash your hands. Use the #HandwashingHeroes hashtag for a chance to be featured on the CDC’s social wall.

This # campaign can be one way to make handwashing education cool for kids. Be sure to explain that germs are all around us – on clothes and bedding, on raw food, on items and surfaces such as electronic devices and countertops, and especially on hands and bodies.

Proper, effective technique is as crucial to handwashing, as is remembering when to scrub up. Key times to wash hands: Before, during, and after preparing food; after using the toilet; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

CDC’s instructions for posting #HandwashingHeroes photos are: 

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, making them nice and clean. Check out CDC’s recommendations on how to wash your hands in five simple steps.
  • Have someone snap a photo or video of you showing your clean hands – better yet, make it a group photo with others! For example, you can also make a video singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while washing your hands. This can serve as a timer while washing.
  • Share your post on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook using the hashtag #HandwashingHeroes.

Additional resources for parents, educators, employers
Handwashing isn’t just for home. In fact, one could argue that it more important when you’re out and about. 

Many people think about the importance of students washing their hands before meals and snacks during school hours. But handwashing in the workplace isn’t stressed, unless you work in a food business. At least I hope it’s stressed in food businesses. 

With the free materials that are available from the CDC, as well as most state and local health departments, I see no reason that every single employee and public bathroom in the country doesn’t have signs showing the steps of effective handwashing. The handwashingforlife.com website also has numerous educational materials in print and video formats.

Links to handwashing materials offered by the CDC include:

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