Just getting over a cold or a stomach virus? Or perhaps you have been having a really bad string this winter and “keep getting sick”? The problem may very well be your hand washing or lack thereof [blank stare and lip curl]. Trust me, it's more important than you think!
How do germs get onto hands and make you sick?
Germs can get onto hands if people touch any object that has germs on it. This happens when someone coughs or sneezes on their hands, or was touched by some other contaminated object. Door handles and knobs, shopping cart handles, and elevator buttons are some common examples. When these germs come in contact with your hands and are not washed off, they can be transmitted from person to person and make people ill.
Even worse, feces (bowel movement), from people or animals can contain a source of germs like Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus that cause diarrhea, and it can spread some respiratory infections like adenovirus and hand-foot-mouth disease. This usually occurs after people use the toilet or change an infant’s diaper without proper hand washing. Sources of fecal contamination can be present, for example: on bathroom stall doors, paper towel dispensers, and even sink faucets! According to disease control experts, a single gram of human feces—which is about the weight of a paper clip—can contain one trillion germs. That minute amount is all it takes to make you sick.
Why is proper hand washing so important?
- Hand washing prevents illnesses and spread of infections to others.
- Hand washing with soap removes germs from hands.
- People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. These are direct portals of entry for germs.
- Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
- Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, such as handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
- Removing germs through hand washing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.
The numbers don’t lie. As per the Center For Disease Control, hand washing:
Reduces the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31% and reduces respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 21%.
How should we properly wash our hands?
Follow these simple steps:
- Wet your hands with running water — either warm or cold.
- Apply liquid, bar or powder soap.
- Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously (with friction) for at least 20 seconds. If you are having doubts whether you are performing hand hygiene long enough, sing the “Happy Birthday” song over twice. (This is an effective method is taught to preschoolers and elementary school children).
- Pay special attention to often forgotten places such as: the finger tips, thumbs, palm creases, and the webbing between fingers. See the illustration below.
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
- If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet. Try not to use your hands.
Try these suggestions. You may find that this cuts down on the number of respiratory (colds/flu) and gastrointestinal viruses (stomach bugs). It’s amazing what a little soap and water can do!
~Ms. Diagnose, RN