It costs less than a penny to wash your hands and much more for a visit to the doctor. However, it's estimated that each year 40 million people get sick from bacteria transmitted by unwashed hands.

Six-year-old Avery Hardwell recently learned about the importance of handwashing.

"Basically, we just pass germs back and forth through the things that we touch and handle," says Rush Hospital's infection control nurse, Cherry Flanagan.

She says many people could avoid illnesses such as Hepatitis A, meningitis and infectious diarrhea, if they would just regularly wash their hands.

"In light of all the things concerning us now, especially SARS, the best defense is still hand washing."

It's estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the bathroom, although health officials say it doesn't have to take long. In fact, they say 17 seconds of scrubbing both sides of your hand should do it. That's estimated to be how long it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song.

Here are some other tips:

1. When using public restrooms flush with your foot when possible.

2. Activate hand dryers with your elbow.

3. Use paper towels to turn off the water faucet and open the door.

"So, what we learn from this is to ALWAYS WASH YOUR HANDS!" says Flanagan.

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