The Important of Hand Washing

Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! We hear it all day long; it's a mantra we recite multiple times a day to our children and ourselves. There are posters and signs in all public restrooms and kitchens reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work. If everyone washed their hands with soap and running water, as is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the spread of germs and the ensuing sickness they often bring would be greatly reduced.

We all know the significance of washing our hands after we use the restroom or change a diaper. Just a very small amount of feces contains trillions of germs that can cause infection or other illnesses. Handling raw meats can also transfer minuscule amounts of animal feces onto our hands that need to be washed off in order to avoid those germs making their way into our bodies. At the same time, people preparing food with dirty hands can relocate germs onto foods and beverages that will then be consumed by unsuspecting persons.

Germs also spread when people touch common areas that have been touched by other persons who may be unknowingly transporting germs. Handrails, elevator buttons, light switches, door knobs, refrigerator handles… the list goes on and on. Many germs are powerful enough to live on these surfaces for a few days.

While we all may know that hand washing is key to staying healthy, many people do not wash their hands well enough to dispel any lurking germs. The inclusion of soap in the hand washing ritual is vital to eliminating the germs; just rinsing them with water is not enough to stop the spread of germs. Ensuring that the soap and water coat all parts of our hands – from the palm, fingers, sides and tops of our hands – means that no germs will be missed and end up making someone sick. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds and spend 10 seconds rinsing the soap off your hands.

In healthcare settings, like hospitals or skilled nursing facilities, hand hygiene is an important component of a healthcare worker's daily routine, as they move from person to person. Even following "clean contact" (taking a pulse or resident's blood pressure) can result in the transfer of germs – so ensuring hands are cleaned before and after making contact with another person is crucial to stopping the spread of germs and infection. This is especially important for elderly persons, like many people living in skilled nursing facilities, since they often have compromised or weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to infection and illness.

Good hand hygiene habits can prevent many illnesses related to diarrhea and respiratory infections (like the winter colds we all dread each season). Preventing sickness means reducing the amount of antibiotics that a person must take – thus lessening the likelihood of developing resistance to antibiotics and other medications. In turn, good hand washing habits can help people from contracting germs and illnesses that may be resistant to antibiotic treatments.

Many people use hand sanitizers in place of water. While soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on your hands, alcohol-based sanitizers are a good solution if the former is not available. Look for sanitizers that are at least 60% alcohol. These sanitizers will not remove all germ-causing microbes, but using one is better than not taking any action.

The scientific belief that clean hands can impact the spread of germs and disease has come a long way. As late as the mid-19th century, doctors did not believe that washing their hands before performing surgeries or delivering babies made a difference in the overall health of the patient. A Hungarian physician discovered that if he washed his hands before delivering babies, there were fewer deaths among the mothers. This was a novel concept and not one that the physician community took very seriously at first. It took many years for medical society to learn and understand germs, how they are transferred and the role they play in illness and infection.

With winter right around the corner, taking a pledge to do a better job of washing your hands will be a central part of your body's ability to stay healthy this season. We all touch our eyes, noses and mouths hundreds of times throughout the day, even without realizing it. Keeping your hands as germ-free as possible will go a long way to safeguarding your body from the invasion of unwelcome germs. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.

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Thursday, February 27, 2020

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