Cold and Flu
Importance of Hand Hygiene
Right and Wrong
Did you know that there’s a right and wrong way to wash your hands? Properly washing your hands, also called hand hygiene, is one of the most important steps in preventing colds and flu. Keep reading to find out how germs make you sick and what washing your hands can do for you.
How Germs Spread
When a person with the flu or a cold coughs or sneezes, respiratory droplets can land on whatever’s nearby. Even if the person covers his or her mouth, anything they touch before washing their hands can become infected. Germs can live on surfaces such as keyboards, door handles, tables, and phones up to several days. Healthy people who then touch these surfaces pick them up.
How Germs Enter the Body
Germs enter the body through the eyes, nose, or mouth when, for example, you touch a germ-infested item and then rub your eyes or nose or put food into your mouth. Once inside your body, the germs multiply and attack your immune system.
When to Wash
Washing your hands throughout the day is essential in keeping germs at bay. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have listed instances when hand washing is critical:
- After using the restroom or changing a diaper
- Before, during, and after handling food—especially raw meat and poultry
- Before and after caring for or visiting someone who is sick
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
- After touching an animal
- After handling garbage
Soap or Hand Sanitizer?
When your hands are visibly dirty, you should always use soap and water. If you don’t have access to soap and water and your hands aren’t visibly dirty, you can use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is available in gel form or as a foam; both work equally as well. Pick up a travel-sized bottle to carry with you for quick and easy sanitizing throughout the day.
Washing with Soap
Test your method of washing against the CDC’s recommendations:
1. Wet your hands with clean water and apply soap.
2. Scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
3. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
4. Rinse and dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel. Use a paper towel to turn off faucet knobs and open the bathroom door.
Using Hand Sanitizer
Using hand sanitizer can kill most germs, but only if it’s at least 60 percent alcohol-based. The only way to kill all germs on your hands is by washing thoroughly with soap and water. Follow these simple steps to properly use hand sanitizer:
1. Apply a quarter-sized amount of hand sanitizer to the palm of your hand.
2. Rub over backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails.
3. Let dry, about 15 to 25 seconds.
When you sneeze or cough, it’s important to cover up to prevent germs from spreading your germs to nearby surfaces and people. Traditional advice to cover your mouth with your hands when you cough or sneeze can actually spread germs. To properly cover your sneeze or cough, use the crook of your elbow. If you use a tissue, wash your hands afterwards.