We all know that bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, trigger infections that can be serious and even life-threatening. These germs are easily spread when you touch contaminated objects or surfaces and then touch your nose, mouth or eyes, where the malicious microbes can enter your body and make you ill.
Consider all the objects you touch in a typical day. These may include doorknobs, elevator buttons, door handles, ATM keys, touchscreens and your cellphone, to name a few. When you touch these objects, any germs on their surfaces are transferred to your hands. Then your touch your face.
Think you don’t? The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology estimates that people touch their face at least 23 times an hour!
Frequent handwashing is a powerful tool for avoiding getting sick and spreading germs to others. December 1-7 is National Handwashing Awareness Week. It’s an excellent opportunity for us to take our mothers’ admonitions to heart and revisit the healthy habit of washing our hands.
Handwashing can protect you from COVID-19, respiratory infections such as pneumonia and gastric infections that cause diarrhea. These conditions can be deadly to some people, including older individuals, those with weakened immune systems, infants and children. In fact, about 1.8 million children under age 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, which are the top two killers of children worldwide.
Educating people about proper handwashing has been shown to reduce the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 23 to 40 percent. It can also reduce respiratory illnesses, including colds, by 16 to 23 percent. Further, it cuts down absenteeism due to gastrointestinal illness in schoolchildren by 29 to 57 percent.
It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet and changing a baby’s diaper because feces can get on your hands. Studies show that a single gram of human feces, which is about the weight of a paper clip, can contain one trillion germs! Other times you should wash your hands include:
• When your hands are visible dirty
• Before, during and after preparing food
• Before eating
• Before and after caring for a sick person
• Before and after treating a burn or wound
• Before changing contact lenses
• After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
• After touching or feeding your pet, walking your dog and handling animal waste
• After touching garbage
• After handling money
Washing your hands with soap and water has been found to eliminate more germs that washing with water alone. The steps for washing hands effectively include:
- Rinse your hands under clean running water at a comfortable temperature. Warm water isn’t more effective at killing germs than cold water.
- Apply the soap of your choice. It doesn’t matter if you use bar soap, liquid or foam. Antibacterial soap is not necessary to use every day outside of health care facilities.
- Lather up for 20 seconds, Be sure to get in between your fingers, on the back of your hands and wrists, and under your nails, where germs collect
- Rinse and dry thoroughly with a clean towel.
- If you are using a public restroom, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and turn the door handle when leaving.
When running water and soap aren’t available, you can clean your hands on the go using a hand sanitizer. Be sure to choose one that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Ethanol alcohol and isopropyl alcohol ate both acceptable types.
When using a hand sanitizer, place the amount recommended by the manufacturer on your hands and vigorously rub it into both hands. Make sure to cover all areas, including your wrists and under your nails. Continue rubbing until your hands air dry.
If frequent handwashing dries your skin, consider using a moisturizing soap, such as glycerin, or a hand cream or lotion after washing to keep your skin smooth and moist.
Washing your hands only takes 20 seconds. It may be the best time you devote to your health, and the health of others.