By Bethany Chandler, Pharmacy Resident, BHMC-Little Rock
To quote the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “hand-washing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine — washing your hands will help reduce the spread of illness so you can stay healthy this winter. Regular hand-washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. It’s quick, it’s simple, and it can keep us all from getting sick.”
What germs may be on our hands?
We can get germs on our hands by handling raw meat or after using the restroom. Feces (poop) can contain germs like salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus. These germs can cause serious diarrheal illness.
When we sneeze, we can spread influenza, the virus that causes the flu, and other viruses that cause the common cold. We can even get germs by touching objects such as handrails and bath fixtures.
Did you know the Clostridium difficile (C-diff) spores can persist on hard surfaces for as long as five months? All of these bacteria and viruses can cause serious, even life-threatening illness.
As a pharmacist, I would rather recommend washing your hands regularly than an antibiotic or antiviral to treat a respiratory or diarrheal illness!
Always wash your hands:
- Before and after eating or drinking
- Before handling food
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After using the bathroom
- After being near someone who is ill
- After touching handrails or other things handled by many people
- After handling garbage or trash
Your hands may look clean, but that is not the case. CDC studies show that there can be up to 500,000 bacteria per square centimeter on the human hand. Those bacteria can cause serious diarrheal and respiratory illness.
It is estimated that washing hands with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50 percent and can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16 percent.
Proper hand hygiene is key to prevent illness. The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
We all are familiar with the song “Happy Birthday” right? Well, singing “Happy Birthday” two times in your head (or out loud if you don’t mind strange looks) will give you the appropriate time frame you should be spending when washing your hands.
In case water is unavailable, carry an alcohol-based hand rub (also called hand sanitizer). When choosing a product, look for one with 60-percent alcohol.
How to wash your hands:
- Wet your hands with warm running water .
- Lather with soap and scrub between fingers, on the backs of hands, and under nails.
- Wash for at least 20 seconds. That’s about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Dry your hands. Use paper towels or electric hand dryers.
- Use a paper towel when you turn off the tap.
If you are already sick, it is still essential that you participate in proper hand-washing and other behavioral habits to prevent the spreading of your germs to others.
Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to cough and sneeze. If you are like me, you learned the most polite way to sneeze, when you do not have a tissue, is into your hands. However, the best way to keep your germs to yourself is to sneeze into the bend of your arm. It may feel strange at first, but soon it will come naturally.
About 80 percent of infectious diseases are spread via touch. If we practice proper cough etiquette and hands are properly washed, think of all the diseases that could be prevented!
Hand-washing is a win for everyone, except the germs.