Hand washing do’s and don’ts
Updated: July 8, 2012 8:08AM
Even though it’s not yet cold and flu season, washing your hands remains your best protection against annoying summer viruses, infections and illnesses. Yet sometimes, frequent hand washing slacks off during the warmer months. The vigilance of flu season is past, so unless hands look dirty, such as after gardening or opening a package of meat when grilling, people aren’t thinking about germs.
But hand washing is always a person’s best defense against many organisms that cause illness.
When should you wash?
Before touching your mouth, nose or eyes
Before and after preparing food or drinks
After going to the bathroom
After changing a diaper or assisting a young child or elderly person in the bathroom
Before and after caring for the sick
After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing
After handling an animal, animal feed or animal waste
After exiting a animal enclosure (such as a petting zoo), even if you did not touch an animal
After handing garbage
Before and after treating a cut or wound, dispensing medicine, or caring for a sick or injured person
Before inserting or removing contact lenses
With so many products available to do the job, what should you choose? For starters, unless you’re using a hand sanitizer, you will need water. Although by itself water won’t do a proper job, it’s necessary for rinsing away the proteins and oils the cleanser dislodges. For this, warm water works better to remove the natural oils on your hands that hold soils and bacteria.
Did you know items labeled as “soap” are actually detergents? Both are fine to use, but steer away from antibacterial soaps, especially those containing Triclosan. Research indicates that, because of its overuse, many bacteria are resistant to Triclosan.
Don’t worry about catching germs from the previous user of a bar of soap. Any lingering germs are washed away with the lather.
Tips for washing with soap and water:
Wet hands with under clear, running water
Apply soap and rub into a foam
Scrub for 20 seconds or sing “Happy Birthday” twice
Be sure to clean the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails
Rinse well under running water
What is the best way to dry your hands? Although blow dryers in public restrooms, in theory, reduce the spread of microorganisms, studies show the air dryer, which may blow at speeds of 400 mph, can send germs flying up to two meters away. The dryers may also multiply the number of bacteria on your fingertips and palms. So when you have a choice, choose paper towels.
Although the Centers for Disease Control recommends soap and water for hand washing, hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol can be useful for times when soap and water simply are unavailable. Hand sanitizers do not replace soap and water when dirt is visible, but they do kill fungi, bacteria — including multi-drug resistant bacteria — and tuberculosis. They also work against certain viruses, such as HIV, herpes, RSV, rhinovirus, influenza and hepatitis. Unfortunately, they are ineffective against the norovirus, one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis.
Use hand sanitizers cautiously with small children, as their ingredients can be poisonous to them if ingested. Allow them to rub only a small amount into their hands and always supervise its use. Children should not apply a hand sanitizer without an adult present.
Tips for cleaning with hand sanitizers:
Apply small amount to palm of one hand
Rub hands together, covering all surfaces, until hands are dry
Product should dry within 15 seconds. If not, reduce amount used next time
Although frequent hand washing can be time-consuming, make it a habit to keep yourself and your family healthy all year long.
Dr. Bonny Chen is an emergency medicine specialist at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.