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Handwashing Awareness Week: Dec. 4-10

This week is National Handwashing Awareness Week. And, with flu season in full swing, it is the perfect time to brush up on your handwashing knowledge.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick. It can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 infections, including the flu.

How Germs Spread

Germs can spread in several ways – from person to person or from surfaces to people when you:

  • Touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
  • Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
  • Touch surfaces or objects that have germs on them
  • Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects

Effective Handwashing Can Help Keep You Healthy

The CDC recommends the following five simple steps for handwashing:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

The World Health Organization Considers Handwashing One of the Most Fundamental Infection Prevention and Control Procedures.

You can help yourself and those around you stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:

  • After using the restroom. The CDC reports that only 31 percent of men and 65 percent of women washed their hands after using a public restroom.
  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before and after eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

Fun Fact! A University of Michigan in Ann Arbor study found that the physical act of washing your hands also has a positive postdecisional dissonance effect. In effect, handwashing helps ease people’s minds when it comes to decision-making.

Alternative Hand Hygiene Practices

If soap and water are not easily available to you, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

But remember – Not all hand sanitizers are created equal. According to Rush University, sanitizers with lower concentrations of alcohol or those that are non-alcohol-based are not as effective at killing germs as those with 60 to 95% alcohol. Non-alcohol-based sanitizers especially may not work as well. You can tell if a sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label.

How to Effectively Use Hand Sanitizer

  1. Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand. Remember – read the label to learn the correct amount to use.
  2. Rub your hands together, as if you were washing your hands with soap and water.
  3. Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take about 20 seconds.

While hand sanitizer is a good option when you are unable to use soap and water, it is not a good replacement method. Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs. It will not be as effective when your hands are visibly dirty, greasy, and will most likely not be able to remove harmful chemicals from your hands, like pesticides.

Help Stop the Spread of Germs

Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. A good rule to follow – if you are ever unsure if you should wash your hands – give them a wash. Help keep yourself and those you love safe with routine hand hygiene.