Hand Washing Is Like A "Do-It-Yourself" Vaccine
Your mother was right after all, wash your hands! Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading illness. Hand washing requires only soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a few simple steps. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says, “hand washing is like a "do-it-yourself" vaccine--to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness to promote a Healthy Work Environment. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.” And the recommendations on hand washing stem from more than doing what your mother always told you to, there’s hard scientific data to support it.
As you touch people, surfaces and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If, for example, you are suffering from a lingering cold and you wipe a runny nose with your hand and then touch communally used surfaces like door handles and phones, you risk spreading your cold like wildfire. Although it's impossible to avoid people entirely when under the weather or keep your hands completely germ-free, washing your hands frequently can help limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.
You should always wash your hands before:
- Preparing food or eating
- Treating wounds, giving medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
- Inserting or removing contact lenses
And you should always wash your hands after:
- Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
- Using the toilet or changing a diaper
- Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes, or waste
- Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands
- Treating wounds or caring for a sick or injured person
- Handling garbage, household or garden chemicals, or anything that could be contaminated — such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes
In addition, wash your hands whenever they actually look dirty.
Hand Washing 101
Good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses, from the common cold to more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, influenza, hepatitis A, and most types of infectious diarrhea. It's generally best to wash your hands with soap and water. For the most effective hand washing, follow these simple steps:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap (liquid, bar or powder soap), making sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
- Keep hands clean if possible by using your towel to turn off the faucet and even to open bathroom door as others before you may not have washed their hands.
Keep in mind that antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than is regular soap. Using antibacterial soap may even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product's antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill these germs in the future. Regular soap paired with water and a little bit of friction is all it takes.
Can’t I Just Use Hand Sanitizer?
Soap and water hand washing is still the best first line of defense against germs and disease causing microbes. Antibacterial hand sanitizers can be effective but are best left an alternative when proper hand washing isn’t available. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don't require water, are an acceptable alternative when soap and water aren't available. If you choose to use a hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Then follow these simple steps:
- Apply enough of the product to the palm of your hand to wet your hands completely.
- Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces, until your hands are dry.
It is surprising just how many adults don’t employ the preventative and civil practice of hand washing after the bathroom, during an illness and before eating or preparing food. Of course, if you have children, there is no time like the present to instill good habits like frequent hand washing. Hand washing doesn't take much time or effort, but it offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. Adopting this simple habit can play a major role in protecting your health and promoting a healthy work environment.