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Want to avoid getting sick this winter?

Family Health
Dec 20, 2018

Frequent and proper hand washing can help prevent illness

Avoid getting a cold or flu this winter and wash your hands. But, are you doing it correctly?

Rita AllenResearchers from Michigan State University recently discovered that only five percent of people in America washed their hands for the full 20 seconds needed to kill germs and bacteria. The study also found 33 percent of people do not use soap.

Cold and flu viruses can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing or simply coming into contact with someone who is sick and then touching your mouth or nose, explains Rita Allen, RN, CIC, infection preventionist at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Our mouth and nose are ways for germs to enter our bodies and cause illness.

Cold and flu viruses also can spread indirectly, Allen says, when you touch a surface contaminated with germs and then touch your face. Germs can be anywhere from doorknobs to telephones to grocery carts.

While it may not be possible to avoid touching these germy spots, a simple solution is to wash your hands frequently.

“It’s important to clean frequently-touched items and obviously our hands too because we touch everything,” Allen says. “We touch everything around us and then we touch our faces, so by washing our hands we interrupt the spread of germs.”

When you should wash your hands

It may seem like common sense, but here’s a friendly reminder of when you should wash your hands:

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After going to the restroom
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the restroom
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After being around someone who is sick
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

How you should wash your hands

Proper hand washing involves five simple and effective steps – wet, lather, scrub, rinse and dry.

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and around your nail beds
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them

If you are in a situation where soap and water are not readily available, Allen recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. For example, she leaves one in her car to apply after she pumps gas.

When using hand sanitizer, pour the cleaner into your palm and massage it into the backs and palms of your hands, between your fingers and around your nail beds. Allow the alcohol-based solution to air dry on your hands.

“Because our hands are so involved in everything we do, it’s important to wash or sanitize your hands often.”

Additional ways to avoid getting or spreading the flu are:

  • Cover your cough and sneeze into a tissue or in your arm/sleeve
  • Get a flu shot
  • Stay home if you are sick
  • Eat healthy and nutritious meals, including lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Touch your nose, mouth and eyes only with clean hands
  • Regularly clean surfaces, especially items you have to touch frequently during the day (doorknobs, toilets, faucets, phones, computer keyboards, etc.)

Related Article: There’s no excuse. Now is the time to get the flu vaccine.

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