Have You Washed Your Hands Today?

[avatar user=”dponieman” size=”thumbnail” align=”left” link=”https://somoscc.wpengine.com/who-we-are/diego-a-ponieman”]by Diego Ponieman M.D., M.P.H.[/avatar]

Sometimes in our busy lives, it’s easy to forget to take a second to think about our health. Everyday actions from flushing a toilet to tapping your phone screen put you in contact with millions of germs. Hand washing may seem simple, but it is actually the most effective way to prevent yourself and your family from spreading infections and getting sick. Yet oftentimes, the importance of this simple habit is overlooked.

Think about how many things you touch every single day. Then think about how many other people are touching those same exact things. Think about how many times a day you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. All of those touches are an opportunity for germ transmission. For that reason alone, it’s vital to make sure that you are washing your hands regularly to remove harmful germs and prevent infection.

During winter months, when people tend to contract infections like influenza, it’s even more important to think about how to stop the spread of germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the simple act of hand washing reduces the amount of respiratory illnesses like colds in the general population anywhere 16-21%. Additionally, hand washing with soap could protect almost one out of 5 young children sick with respiratory infections. More broadly, strong hand washing education in schools can help improve attendance substantial by preventing gastrointestinal illnesses among young people.

However, it’s important to remember that good hand washing is more than just splashing your hands under some water and leaving. You should follow these five steps every single time you wash your hands:

  1. Wet your hands with water and apply soap
  2. Lather every part of your hands from their backs to their palms, to between the fingers and under the nails
  3. Do this for at least 20 seconds every time
  4. Rinse your hands under clean water
  5. Dry your hands with a clean towel or allow them to air dry

Washing your hands the right way will help protect you and the people around you, but how many times do you actually need to do it per day? Well, it depends on what activities you engage in. You should always wash your hands before, during, and after cooking and before eating. Wash them after taking public transportation, touching an animal, using the toilet, caring for someone who is ill, or treating a wound.  Finally, any time you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose is an opportunity to come into contact with germs, so make sure you visit a sink soon after.

If you are in a situation where running water and soap are not readily available, you can use hand sanitizer as an alternative. Make sure the brand you buy contains at least 60% alcohol to ensure it’s effective, and remember that sanitizer is not a valid substitute for regular hand washing. It won’t get rid of all types of germs and will not clean your hands when they are greasy or visibly dirty.