Wash your hands to stay healthy

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By Tamalynn Kirby/School District 51

TamalynnKirby

One of the best ways to avoid getting sick is also one of the easiest: Wash your hands.

There’s no standard that dictates how often you should wash your hands; it really depends on your activities. There are certain occasions when you must wash your hands: after using the bathroom, before eating or preparing food and after being with someone who is ill.

Here are other ways to avoid getting – and spreading – cold and flu germs:

  • When you’re sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from becoming infected.
  • Stay home from work, school and public places whenever possible when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue promptly. If you don’t have a tissue handy, sneeze into your elbow not your hands.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.Germs are often spread when you touch something that is contaminated and then touch those areas of your face. (Source: Faculty of Harvard Medical School)

Soap and water don’t kill germs; they mechanically remove germs from your hands. Water alone does a pretty good job of germ removal, but soap increases the overall effectiveness by pulling unwanted material off your skin and into the water. Drying your hands is an important step in the hand-washing process because wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry hands.

Here are four tips for good hand hygiene:

  • Don’t scrub. Scrubbing can damage your skin, especially if you do it often. The resulting cracks and small cuts give viruses and bacteria a place to grow.
  • Keep your fingernails short. Bacteria like the area under your fingernails. Long nails make it more difficult to keep those areas clean.
  • Use hand lotion, especially during the winter. Keeping the skin on your hands intact (free of cracks) is essential to good hand hygiene.
  • Don’t be in such a hurry. It takes about one minute to properly wash and dry your hands. Wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing one chorus of “Happy Birthday.”

What about hand sanitizers?

The main advantage of these alcohol-based cleaners, which you just rub on your hands, is that you don’t need water or a towel, so you can use them anywhere.

Alcohol’s killing power comes from its ability to change the shape of, or denature, and destroy proteins crucial to the survival of bacteria and viruses. Alcohol eliminates bacteria, and even some viruses.

In all but a few trials, alcohol-based cleaners reduced bacterial counts on hands better than plain soap, several kinds of antibacterial soap and even iodine. But alcohol doesn’t kill everything – bacterial spores, some protozoa and certain viruses aren’t affected.

To be effective, alcohol-based rubs need to come into contact with all surfaces of your hands – back, front, in between the fingers and so forth. For that reason, studies have shown that using small amounts – 0.2 to 0.5 milliliters, about the amount in one squirt – is really no better than washing with plain soap and water. So use several squirts when you use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Follow these steps no matter what type of cleanser you use:

  • Spread cleanser over hands.
  • Clean backs of hands and fingers.
  • Clean fingertips.
  • Clean fingernails.
  • Clean thumbs.
  • Clean between fingers.

Tamalynn Kirby is a nutritionist for School District 51. 

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