No one wants to experience the unpleasant symptoms of seasonal flu or viruses. Aside from getting your flu shot, what can you do to protect yourself? Wash your hands, correctly and often. It’s a simple, effective way to get rid of germs before they make you sick and, equally important, before you can pass along those germs or an illness to your loved ones.
Thanks to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are 6 things you should know about hand washing to make your routine as effective as possible and keep those germs away:
The CDC recommends washing hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? 20 seconds is about the same amount of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. These are the steps for effective hand washing:
It is important to always wash your hands before:
Additionally, always wash your hands after:
The most commonly missed areas when washing hands are between the fingers, around the fingernails, and the back of the thumb. It is important to pay special attention to these areas when washing or sanitizing hands.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but they do not eliminate all types of germs. Hand sanitizers are not as effective as soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty or after using the restroom. Furthermore, soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing or inactivating certain kinds of germs, like Norovirus and Clostridium difficile (C. diff). Norovirus causes diarrhea and vomiting and is easily spread in densely populated areas, such as cruise ships. C. diff is an antibiotic-associated diarrhea common to hospitals and nursing homes. The CDC recommends ethanol alcohol-based hand sanitizer, preferably in a gel form. The sanitizer should be at least 60% ethanol.
Antibacterial soaps are no more effective than plain soap and water for killing disease-causing germs outside of healthcare settings. There is no evidence that antibacterial soaps are more effective than plain soap for preventing infection under most circumstances in the home or in public places. Therefore, plain soap is recommended in public, non-healthcare settings and in the home.
Preventing sickness reduces the amount of antibiotics people use and the likelihood that antibiotic resistance will develop. Handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections (e.g., colds and flu). Reducing the number of these infections by washing hands frequently helps prevent the overuse of antibiotics—the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world.