Frequent and proper hand washing can help prevent illness

Mar 18, 2020

Experts agree that one of the best ways to prevent getting and spreading COVID-19 – or any illness – is by properly and frequently washing your hands.

Viruses, such as COVID-19, the flu and even the common cold, are transmitted by coughing, sneezing or simply coming into contact with someone who is sick and then touching your nose or mouth, explains Rita Allen, RN, CIC, infection preventionist at St. Joseph’s/Candler

Rita Allen, infection control nurse

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.

Since it’s impossible for many 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 should you wash your hands

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

  • 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.

When to use hand sanitizer

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 pumping 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.”

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