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Diarrheal Diseases in Lower Income Countries

In many lower income countries, diarrheal disease is the leading cause of death among children. However, a recent review of data from a number of studies showed that a 42%-47% reduction in diarrhea can occur when handwashing with soap and water is introduced into a community. Thus, handwashing promotion and interventions are estimated to have the potential to prevent one million deaths from diarrheal diseases 1.

Most diarrheal diseases are spread by person-to-person contact or by fecal-oral routes, many times by way of contaminated hands. Handwashing can stop the spread of many diarrheal disease-causing germs, such as typhoid and cholera, by removing bacteria, parasites, and viruses from the hands. Handwashing is integral to disease prevention in all parts of the world; however, access to soap and water is limited in a number of lower income countries. This lack of access is one of many challenges to proper hygiene in lower income countries. Effective handwashing interventions involve education and promoting long-term behavior changes, both in appropriate social and cultural contexts.

For more information on handwashing, visit CDC’s Keeping Hands Clean and Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives pages.

For a listing of other, potentially-waterborne diarrheal disease and further information, visit CDC’s Index of Water-Related Topics.

  1. Curtis V, Cairncross S. Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhea risk in the community: A systematic review. Lancet Infect Dis. 2003;3(5):275-81.

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