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Hand Washing: The Best Medicine for Colds and Flu

With Winter comes cold and flu season, and, in turn, a good reason to refocus your efforts on the benefits of thorough hand washing.

“Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick or spreading illness,” says Infection Preventionist Bethany Brown and the Infection Prevention and Control Committee at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital. “Of equal importance is washing your hands properly with soap and water or, if necessary, using hand sanitizer.”

Follow these simple steps, J.C. Blair’s Infection Prevention and Control Committee says:

• Remove any jewelry you may be wearing and wet your hands with running water.
• Apply liquid, bar or powder soap and lather well.
• Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, making certain to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
• Rinse well and dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel, or an air dryer.
• If possible, use your towel to turn off the water faucet and on doors as you exit the restroom.

“Hand sanitizer and antibacterial soaps should only be used when regular soap and water aren’t available,” Brown adds. “They are no more effective at killing germs than regular soap, and frequent use may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents, making it harder to kill these germs in the future.”

John Johnston, vice president and strategic planning practice leader at Quorum Health Resources (QHR), describes the results of a report on hand washing trends announced this past September: “In the latest observational study sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute, 85 percent of adults washed their hands in public restrooms, compared with 77 percent in 2007. The 85 percent total was actually the highest observed since these studies began in 1996.” However, in a separate telephone survey, 96 percent of adults say they always wash their hands in public restrooms, a percentage that has remained relatively constant over the years – which Johnston attributed to “good intentions.”

You should always wash your hands before:
• Preparing food;
• Eating;
• Administering medicine/medical treatment;
• Touching a baby or sick person; or
• Putting in/taking out contact lenses.

You should always wash your hands after:
• Using the restroom;
• Changing a diaper;
• Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands;
• Preparing food, especially raw meat;
• Touching an animal or its toys/litter box/waste;
• Handling garbage or other potentially contaminated items;
• Touching a sick person;
• Treating wounds; or
• Whenever they look dirty.

Parents, teachers and childcare givers can help children stay healthier, too, by encouraging them to wash their hands properly and frequently.

“Wash your hands with the child to show them how it's done, and lead by example each and every day,” Brown says. “Prevent rushing by suggesting children sing a song as they wash…the ‘ABCs’ works well for this. And never hesitate to remind children to wash their hands after using the toilet, after coming inside after playing, or before a meal.”

A kid-friendly bathroom at home or school can help, too. A stepstool, colorful soap dispenser and easy-to-reach hand towel can make the process more manageable and enjoyable for your little ones.

Educational hand hygiene materials are available to download online at www.washup.org and www.cleaninginstitute.org/clean_living/hands_publications.aspx.

This article courtesy of J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital and Quorum Health Resources (QHR).