Utica, NY (WIBX) - The Oneida County Department of Health is encouraging residents to wash their hands.

As part of National Handwashing Week, the group is reminding people to properly wash their hands with warm water and soap, especially after using the bathroom, playing with animals or before preparing food.

Patrice Bogan, Director of Clinic Services for the County's Department of Health, said handwashing is one of the easiest ways to keep from becoming sick.

"We've known about handwashing and how important it is for years," Bogan said. "But, it's something that, despite all that information, people often forget to take advantage of."

Bogan also said most infections can be fought off simply by using warm soap and water. When soap isn't available, alcohol-based gels work just as well.

"The alcohol-based hand gels, unless there's visable debris on your hands, they are probably as effective, if not more effective, than soap and water," Bogan said. "And, they come in all kinds of containers now. you can get small containers to carry in your pocket of purse, so that it's always available to you."

A recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 67 percent of Americans properly wash their hands after using the bathroom, and only 45 percent wash after handling a pet.

The Health Department recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, and when using a public restroom, using a paper towel to shut off the faucet.