Protecting Yourself Against Harmful Germs

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One very simple way to cut the odds of getting sick—– WASH YOUR HANDS!  And it works for the flu, a cold, E. coli, norovirus, rotavirus or even Coronavirus. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and others, second only to a vaccine, if it is available. 

Germs can cause infection – and they lie lurking on everything from door handles to phones, ATM buttons, money, store payment machines, keyboards, handrails to virtually every surface and even in the air.  Add to this, fingers are akin to “weapons of mass contamination” transmitting germs to the nose, mouth, and eyes. Something as innocent as rubbing your eye can bring a germ into your body.  Or, even, touching your food, which you go on to eat. 

Too small to see, people just don’t realize the amount of germ contamination they’re exposed to each day, doing routine things.  Nearly 40% of adults admit to not washing their hands after sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose. And, more than 50% of Americans report they do not typically wash their hands after using shared exercise equipment, touching public surfaces, or handling money.  Facts are that a startling number of Americans put their health – and those around them – at risk by not practicing good hand hygiene.

Importance of Handwashing:  

  • To avoid getting sick. During flu season—which we are in—handwashing is critical to decrease it from spreading. 
  • Prevent the spread of germs to others 
  • Help battle the rise in antibiotic resistance because preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. And, too, it decreases the chances of getting sick with germs that are already resistant to antibiotics and that can be difficult to treat and, even, deadly. 
  • Handwashing education and access to soap in schools and work environments has been shown to improve attendance—because it decreases getting sick!

Right Times: Be conscious of times when you should be washing your hands – before and/or after

  • Cooking, preparing, or eating food
  • Encountering shared surfaces or visiting public places
  • Handling money
  • Using the restroom (even in your own home)
  • Changing a child’s diaper
  • Sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing into your hands
  • After taking out the garbage
  • Touching, feeding, or cleaning up after an animal
  • And, if you think you should – do it – some of it is instinct!    

Fight Germs More Effectively Every Time You Wash Your Hands: A quick splash or rinse with water will not clean off the germs on your hands. You must use soap.

  • Wet your hands and apply soap. The water temperature doesn’t matter that much when it comes to eliminating germs. Get enough soap to build a lather that will last for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces—front, back, and side-to-side. And, don’t forget in between the webs of your fingers and your fingernails. Get soap and water under your nails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for 20 seconds. Some experts recommend confirming you spent enough time by singing the entire “Happy Birthday” or “Alphabet” song. If you sing fast, do it twice!
  • Rinse hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands thoroughly, using a paper towel or air dryer. Wet hands make a perfect environment for germs to flourish. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.
  • If soap and water is not available, use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol can serve as a Plan B

Some cold and flu viruses last a surprisingly long time on surfaces: between six and eight hours. Something like the norovirus can live for 24 hours on surfaces. That’s one reason why experts suggest using a paper towel in public bathrooms to grab the door handle — after washing your hands.

Although many experts say you cannot wash your hands too much, many people face dry and cracked hands that can make them want to avoid handwashing. This is especially true in the wintertime. To avoid this, use moisturizing soap and apply moisturizing lotion repeatedly throughout the day and at night before bed. 

Hand washing takes a few extra minutes, but it’s an easy and highly effective way to defend yourself and others from the spread of illnesses like the flu, Coronavirus or other germs on contaminated surfaces.

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.

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