Wash Your Hands: Clean Hands Save Lives

As cold and flu viruses start to make the rounds, it’s a good time to be reminded about how important it is to do something very simple for your health: Wash your hands, and wash them often. It’s really the very best thing you can do (besides getting your immunizations) to avoid getting sick or spreading germs to others.

This seems like a simple concept, but let’s start with the basics anyway. When should you wash your hands?

After using the toilet is No. 1, but you also should wash your hands before, during and after preparing food, before you eat anything, before and after caring for someone who is sick, after changing a diaper, after holding or petting an animal, and after blowing your nose or coughing or sneezing into your hands. Any time you’ve been outside your home and you’ve touched money, or stair railings or elevator buttons – anything that lots of other people have touched – it’s a good idea to wash your hands. 

Is there a right way to wash your hands?

There are essentially five steps to washing your hands the right way: Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse and Dry. You should use soap and water and rub your hands together to lather the soap. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails each time you wash. You need to scrub for at least 20 seconds, which also is the length of the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end, twice. Hum it to yourself and then rinse your hands under running water and dry them with a clean towel or allow them to air dry.

What if soap and water isn’t available?

Then you should use an alcohol-based sanitizer that has at least 60 percent alcohol in it, or hand wipes. Keep in mind that sanitizers will reduce the number of germs on your hands, but they don’t get rid of ALL the germs. Rub it all over your hands and fingers until they are dry. Hand sanitizers are not as effective when your hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

Why is the alcohol important in hand sanitizer?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that many studies have shown that sanitizers that contain 60-95 percent alcohol kill more germs than sanitizers with lower concentrations of alcohol. Non-alcohol-based sanitizers may not work as well for all different kinds of germs. They also could cause germs to become resistant to the sanitizing agent, and they could merely reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright.

Will all this hand washing help keep us from getting a cold or the flu?

It will certainly help. Hand washing also helps protect against the spread of meningitis, hepatitis A, and infectious diarrhea. Think about all the things you touched today that others also touched. You probably picked up some germs along the way that could make you sick. You’re at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth because germs go from your hands into your body. Rubbing your nose or eyes after you have a virus on your hands is one of the most common ways people get sick with a cold. After hand washing, the best way to prevent flu is to get the yearly vaccine.

(Note: A Closer Look At Your Health airs at 6:50 a.m. most Tuesdays on KBOI News Radio 670. This is a slightly edited transcript of the segment from Dec. 6.)

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