Editors Note: This is an updated and revised edition for 2018.
Winter will soon be here so we stock up on tissues, hand sanitizer, and vitamin C. And we take extra vitamin D3. We all know we will be exposed to pathogens that whirl around us and lurk on every doorknob, grocery cart, and surface.
Not only are those nasties on physical surfaces, but they are also in the air, in heat ducts at work, or flowing through the plane’s circulation system and at our children’s schools.
- When we greet someone with a handshake, what has transferred onto our own hand?
- Who knows what is waiting in the mall as we do Christmas shopping?
- What about at meetings, parties, restaurants, church or any social function?
- What can we do to protect ourselves and others around us?
A Plain and Simple Way To Halt the Spread of Germs
There is a simple way to decrease your exposure to those nasty microscopic devils that are just looking for a ride to our nose, mouth or eyes.
Wash your hands!
We all know that we should do it but do we follow through? It’s protective to you and your family to always wash your hands well when returning to your home. Each family member should follow through with that plan.
For children, it might be helpful (or even for adults) to have reminders. For little children, a picture reminder works. It’s easy to set a habit in place. Sometimes your little ones will even remind you!
The reason I am even bringing this topic up is that we must develop the strong habit of hand washing and doing it the right way. Failing to “learn and then do” could be lethal, especially to the immune compromised, to the very young or to debilitated individuals.
It is important to keep ourselves as physically prepared as possible. There have been multiple natural disasters around the world over the past several months.
It is already hard enough to evacuate when we’re healthy but to do it with the flu or with a sick baby or Grandpa who is weakened from coughing, vomiting, diarrhea and lack of sleep, multiplies the hardship and could be fatal to those who are just not up to the task.
Truly hand washing can sometimes be the difference between life and death.
History of Hand Washing
Before the connection of hand washing to childbirth, fever was discovered by Dr. Inaz Semmelweis in the mid-1800s, thousands of women died by a bacterial infection carried on their doctor’s hands.
Most midwives of the time washed their hands and subsequent maternal death was much less prevalent in home births. It was estimated that hospital deaths were 10 to 20 times higher. So the simple act of hand washing becomes a life-saver.
Thankfully, today, hand washing is the Holy Grail at hospitals. But I will give a word of caution because there is not always follow through with this procedure by everyone. Actually, doctors visiting patients in the hospital may be the people to keep your eye on.
They are usually in a hurry and don’t plan to touch the patient since they are there to perhaps ask questions only. But in today’s MRSA and C-Diff world they should wash their hands even when “just popping” into your room.
Do not be afraid to remind everyone, including visitors, to wash their hands if they forget!
If you are a little timid or too ill to do that, you or your family could simply put a sign above your bed politely stating, “Please wash your hands.” If they miss the sign and haven’t washed up, just point to the sign with a smile! It usually works!
I worked in surgery for over 25 years and the hand scrubbing done prior to any procedure was extensive and meticulous for all team members.
Keep in mind that MRSA and C-Diff and several other “super-bugs” are on the increase and can be “community-acquired”. You don’t have to be in the hospital to contract these serious, life-threatening organisms.
So developing and teaching your family proper hand washing hygiene should not be overlooked.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists when hands should be washed:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- 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 feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
There are 5 easy steps to proper hand washing. Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse and Dry.
- WET your hands with clean, warm, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap. I feel the pump form is the most sanitary. Soap can sometimes be dirty.
- LATHER your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers, and under your nails with a nail brush where most pathogens gather for a party.
- SCRUB your hands vigorously for 20-25 seconds. Hum “Happy Birthday” all the way through two times, slowly, and that will be satisfactory. Remember, those microbes are on every surface of the hand, especially under the nails.
- RINSE well under clean running water. Rinsing in a sink of standing water will just re-contaminate your hands.
- DRY your hands using a clean towel or an air dryer.
My pet peeve in a public restroom is having the trash can located too far away from the exit door. I always use a paper towel to open the door when exiting, and then throw the paper towel away.
Study on Hand Washing
The largest study ever done (100,000 people) set out to discover the percentage of people who washed their hands after using a public restroom.
- Women: 60%
- Men: 38%
After electronic hand washing counting devices were installed and people were reminded in a very visual way, the percentage of hand washers increased dramatically.
I know you are wondering if those alcohol-based hand gels work as well as soap and water. An antibacterial hand gel can substitute for hand washing when there is no obvious dirt on an individual’s hands.
The alcohol antibacterial preparations are highly effective at killing bacteria and viruses, but only if there is direct contact of alcohol with the microorganisms. So, if there is a lot of dirt on the hands, the antibacterial hand gel may not reach the microorganisms under the dirt.
Using a baby wipe first to remove visible particles then following through with the use of hand gel would work.
The best approach is not to use the hand gel for routine washing in the bathroom or kitchen. But when soap and running water are unavailable the antibacterial gel, if used correctly, will do a good job if it is 70% alcohol.
The percentage is listed on the label. Over time, the alcohol will evaporate and the effectiveness will decrease. After the expired date on the label, the potency will begin to drop.
If you have an emergency storage of hand sanitizer, keep a check on how much you use and then buy what is needed for the year and rotate the bottles, replacing as needed for maximum strength and antibacterial, antiviral effectiveness.
Sure, some pathogens are killed by a lesser concentration but there is no way of knowing what bug you are carrying on your hands. If you only have expired gel available, you can use it but increase the time you vigorously rub it on your hands or perhaps repeat the procedure twice. But only do this if the unexpired gel is available.
The alcohol in the gel works by friction so the vigorous rubbing together of the hands does the job. You might see someone rubbing the alcohol gel on like a lotion. This method is not as effective at eliminating the pathogens.
A Final Thought
Again, is important to keep ourselves as physically prepared as possible. Staying healthy by halting germs before they infect you or someone else is extremely important. Your mother was right, so just do what she taught you to do and wash your hands well!
It will help eliminate disease-causing germs, decrease colds and flu, decrease some pain and suffering this winter and it may even save a life.
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