Now that it is full-blown winter, the chances are higher that you will encounter someone with the sniffles. Because we tend to spend more time cooped inside this time of year, you may be more aware of your proximity to an explosive sneeze or a coughing fit.
While you may feel powerless in this germy world, you are not. Handwashing can help prevent illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has invested in a national campaign to convince people to focus on proper hand hygiene.
Here are some tips inspired by the CDC to ensure you are doing everything you can to help keep yourself and your community well.
Why should I wash my hands?
The CDC reports that handwashing can prevent about 30 percent of illnesses that cause diarrhea and about 20 percent of colds. Handwashing can also prevent more people from catching germs that have become more resistant to antibiotics over time.
How do germs spread? Let me count the ways. When someone with dirty hands prepares food or drinks, anyone who consumes them can get the germs.
Germs on hands can linger on objects or surfaces like doorknobs, tables and toys, where they await the next hand … and the next, and so on. (The flu virus, for example, can remain contagious on a surface for up to 48 hours.)
Anytime we touch our eyes, nose or mouth, we can introduce germs into our body.
Short of becoming a hermit, handwashing is your first line of defense.
How often should I wash my hands?
Often, says the CDC, but especially around activities that could make it more likely you would get or spread germs, including:
- Before, during, and after preparing food and before eating
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal food/treats, or animal waste
- After touching garbage
Is there a magic technique?
Have you ever seen someone at the sink in a public restroom rinse their hands under the water for a couple of seconds and then walk out? That isn’t practicing good hand hygiene.
The CDC developed the below a five-step recommendation to help you ensure you’re ditching the germs:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
What about hand sanitizer?
Call them old-fashioned, but the CDC says soap and water is still the “best way” to rid yourself of germs in most situations. Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, for example. If a sink isn’t available, the CDC approves of the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer as long as it contains at least 60% alcohol. (It is important to keep such hand sanitizers out of reach of young children.)
To property use hand sanitizer, apply the correct amount (per the label) of the product to the palm. Rub your hands together, ensuring the gel reaches all surfaces of your hands and fingers, until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.
For more information on handwashing, visit https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/.