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Toupsis: Handwashing is simplest way you can help stay healthy

It’s something you likely do several times a day. Everyone does – or everyone should.

It takes mere seconds, is inexpensive and doing so can have a significant impact on our health — and the health of others.

The answer? Washing our hands.

We’ve been told to wash our hands regularly since childhood. And with good reason.

Germs are everywhere and we pick them up throughout the course of our day when we shake hands, turn a door knob, type on a keyboard or push a grocery cart.

Germs that spread colds, flu and diarrhea-related illness can easily find their way from our hands into our bodies when we rub our eyes or eat food prepared by someone with hands that weren’t washed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), hand washing is the single most important thing we can do reduce the spread of infectious disease.

Studies have shown that 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as a cold or the flu can be prevented by proper and thorough hand washing.

How Often Should We Wash Our Hands?

While we can’t keep our hands germ free, washing frequently can help limit the transfer of germs.

Always Wash Your Hands BEFORE:

Preparing food, eating, caring for someone who is sick, treating a cut or wound, inserting or removing contact lenses

Always Wash Your Hands AFTER:

Preparing food, caring for someone who is sick, treating a cut or wound, using the bathroom, changing a diaper, cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, touching an animal, animal food or treats, animal cage or animal feces and handling garbage

Proper Hand Washing

While the frequency of handwashing is important, so is the quality of the wash job. To effectively wash our hands, the CDC recommends the following steps:

1. Wet your hands with clean running water. It can be warm or cold.

2. Apply soap. It can be bar or liquid.

3. Lather hands by rubbing them together

4. Scrub all surfaces of your hands including palms, fingers, between the fingers, backs of hands and under the nails.

5. Keep scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. If you need a timer, hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

6. Rinse hands under clean running water.

7. Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

But Isn’t Using Hand Sanitizer Enough?

Actually, no, it isn’t. While alcohol-based hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

But if soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Apply hand sanitizer (amount according to the instructions on the label), to the palm of one hand and rub it all over the surfaces of both hands until your hands are dry.

It should be noted that hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy and may not remove pesticides and heavy metals from hands. A warning about hand sanitizer: Ethanol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if swallowed and should be kept out of the reach of children.

Tips for Teaching Little Hands

Children have less-developed immune systems, are more likely than adults to get cuts, scratches and scrapes and as a result are more susceptible to germs. Little hands need to learn how to wash up – in a big way. Because children learn better by seeing and doing, make hand washing fun and interactive with these tips.

Make sure your child can reach the running water. A sturdy step stool may be necessary.

Try fruity scented soaps or soaps featuring their favorite cartoon characters.

Encourage thorough hand washing by singing the ABC song from start to finish.

Use a hand washing chart.

Hand washing is such a simple thing, but this easy, cost-effective act can really have a powerful impact on our health and the health of others. Washing your hands well (and regularly) won’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll completely avoid getting sick this winter – but it does increase the odds that you and those around you will stay healthier.

Aimee Toupsis an RN and Infection Control Preventionist for Thibodaux Regional Medical Center. For more informaiton, call 985-447-5500.