Hygiene Fast Facts

Soap sud and bar of soap

Hygiene Overview

  • According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is the most cost-effective health action to reduce disease.1
  • As of 2020, 2.3 billion people lacked basic hygiene services (handwashing facility with soap and water), and 1.6 billion people had access to handwashing facilities that lacked water or soap.2
  • Worldwide, 70% of people used basic hygiene services in 2020.2

Hand Hygiene

  • Research shows that washing hands with soap and water could reduce deaths from diarrheal disease by up to 50%.3
  • Researchers estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, 1 million deaths a year could be prevented.4
  • A large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands. Handwashing can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.5
  • Handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16–21%.6,7
  • The use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in U.S. classrooms reduced absenteeism due to infection by about 20% overall among 16 elementary schools and 6,000 students.8
  • Handwashing education in the community:
    • Reduces diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%9
    • Reduces absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29–57%10

Face and Body Hygiene

  • More than 50% of healthy people have Staphylococcus aureus living in or on their nasal passages, throats, hair, or skin.11 Within the first 15 minutes of bathing, the average person sheds 6 x 106 colony forming units (CFU) of Staphylococcus aureus.12 Showering before entering recreational waters (such as pools) prevent the spread of germs by reducing the microbial load.
  • The average individual swimmer contributes at least 0.14 grams of fecal material to the water, usually within the first 15 minutes of entering.13 Showering with soap before swimming helps stop the spread of germs by removing fecal material from the body.
  • Trachoma, the leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide, is related to the lack of facial hygiene.14 An estimated 41 million people suffer from active trachoma, and nearly 10 million people are visually impaired or irreversibly blind as a result of trachoma.15
  • Inadequate contact lens hygiene, such as failure to properly disinfect lenses, increases the risk of acquiring the eye infection Acanthamoeba keratitis.16
  • The spread of pinworms can be reduced by proper hygiene, including clipping nails and showering children immediately after they wake in the morning.17
  1. Black RE, Walker N, Laxminarayan R, et al. Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health: Key Messages of This Volume. Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health: Disease Control Priorities, Third Edition. 2016
  2. WHO/UNICEF JMP (2021). Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020: Five years into the SDGs.
  3. World Health Organization. Water for health: taking charge. [PDF – 6 pages] 2001.
  4. Curtis V, Camicross S. Effect of washing hands with soap on diarrhoea risk in the community: A systematic review. Lancet Infect Dis. 2003;3(5):275-81.
  5. World Health Organization. Hand washing and food safety fact sheet 2. [PDF – 2 pages]
  6. Rabie T, Curtis V. Handwashing and risk of respiratory infections: a quantitative systematic review. Trop Med Int Health. 2006;11(3):258-67.
  7. Aiello AE, Coulborn RM, Perez V, Larson EL. Effect of hand hygiene on infectious disease risk in the community setting: a meta-analysis. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(8):1372-81.
  8. Hammond B, Ali Y, Fendler E, Dolan M, Donovan S. Effect of hand sanitizer use on elementary school absenteeism. Am J Infect Control. 2000;28(5):340-6.
  9. Huang DB, Zhou J. Effect of intensive handwashing in the prevention of diarrhoeal illness among patients with AIDS: a randomized controlled study. J Med Microbiol. 2007;56(5):659-63.
  10. Wang Z, Lapinski M, Quilliam E, Jaykus LA, Fraser A. The effect of hand-hygiene interventions on infectious disease-associated absenteeism in elementary schools: A systematic literature review. Am J Infect Control. 2017;45: 682–689.
  11. Food and Drug Administration. Bad Bug Book – Staphylococcus aureus.
  12. Elmir SM, Wright ME, Abdelzaher A, Solo-Gabriele HM, Fleming LE, Miller G, Rybolowik M, Shih P, Pillai SP, Cooper JA, Quayed EA. Quantitative evaluation of bacteria released by bathers in a marine water. Water Research. 2007;41:3-10.
  13. Gerba CP. Assessment of enteric pathogen shedding by bathers during recreational activity and its impact on water quality. Quant Microbiol. 2001;(2):55-68.
  14. Emerson PM, Burton M, Solomon AW, Mabey D. The SAFE strategy for trachoma control: using operational research for policy, planning and implementation. Bull World Health Organ. 2006;84:613-19.
  15. Stocks ME, Ogden S, Haddad D, Addiss DG, McGuire C, et al. Effect of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene on the Prevention of Trachoma: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLOS Medicine 11(2): e1001605. 2014.
  16. Cope JR, Collier SA, Rao MM, et al. Contact lens wearer demographics and risk behaviors for contact lens-related eye infections–United States, 2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64(32):865-870. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6432a2.
  17. CDC. Pinworm Infection (Enterobiasis).
Page last reviewed: June 15, 2022