Wash your hands to stay well

December 02, 2013
handwashing

Mom drilled the words into your head: Always wash your hands thoroughly before eating and after using the restroom.

But maybe you weren’t paying attention.

A recent study in the Journal of Environmental Health indicates only 5 percent of those using a restroom washed their hands long enough to kill the germs that cause infections. One-third didn’t use soap and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all.

Mom would be very unhappy, with good reason. Keeping your hands clean is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, according to Linda Dickey, director of infection control for UC Irvine Medical Center.

It takes 15 to 20 seconds of vigorous hand-washing to effectively kill the germs, says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), yet the study found that people are only washing their hands for about six seconds, on average.

Hand-washing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many types of infection and illness in all settings — including your home, workplace, child care facilities and hospitals. Clean hands can stop germs from spreading from one person to another and throughout an entire community, according to the CDC.

When running water isn’t available, waterless hand sanitizers are also effective, says Dickey.

Other tips she offers to avoid spreading infection or viruses:
  • Clean under your nails at least once a day.
  • Keep your hands away from your face.
  • Sneeze or cough into the crook of your arm.
  • After washing your hands, use your towel to turn off the faucet and open the door, if possible.

And here’s a step-by-step guide from the CDC spelling out the correct way to wash: 

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap. 
  • Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

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