It is prime time for colds and flu, and handwashing is the single most important measure you can take to prevent the transmission of germs and stay healthy. From respiratory to food-borne illnesses, most sicknesses can be avoided if everyone practiced proper handwashing techniques.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 95 percent of people claim to practice proper hand hygiene, but studies show only about 65 percent of people actually practice any sort of hand hygiene.
Here are some interesting facts and stats regarding handwashing from the CDC:
- Approximately 25 percent of women and 50 percent of men do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom.
- The average person encounters 300 surfaces every 30 minutes, resulting in exposure to 840,000 germs.
- Up to 80 percent of communicable diseases, such as salmonella, E. coli, staph, C. diff, pneumonia, colds, flu and diarrheal infection, are transferred by touch.
- Failing to wash hands correctly contributes to nearly half of all food-borne illness.
- Only 20 percent of people wash their hands before preparing food and less than half before eating food.
- Most bacteria on the hands are under the fingertips and under the nails.
- Fecal matter can be found on 10 percent of credit cards and 16 percent of cell phones.
- Elevator buttons harbor 22 percent more bacteria than toilet seats.
- The area around the sink in a public restroom is covered in bacteria.
- More than a third of people don’t wash their hands after sneezing, coughing or blowing their noses.
- Damp hands are 1,000 times more likely to spread bacteria than dry hands; only about 20 percent of people dry their hands after washing them; reusable cloth towels harbor millions of bacteria.
- Handwashing rates are higher in the morning than in the evening.
- Most people do not wash their hands correctly or for long enough.
- A third of people do not use soap when washing their hands.
- Bacteria count is highest on the dominant hand, but most people wash their less-dominant hand more thoroughly.
How to Properly Wash Your Hands
It sounds simple: Wash your hands. But the CDC says that 97 percent of the time we do it wrong. For example, most people fail to wash their hands and rub with soap for 20 seconds – the time needed to remove the most dirt and germs – and most don’t completely dry their hands.
So, what’s the right way to wash hands? The CDC has the following recommendations:
Step 1: Wet hands with clean, running water.
Step 2: Apply soap.
Step 3: Lather hands and be sure to get the backs of hands, between fingers and under fingernails.
Step 4: Hum Happy Birthday or the alphabet song – this is how long it takes to get in a good scrub.
Step 5: Rinse hands well under running water.
Step 6: Dry hands with a clean paper towel or air dryer.
Step 7: Use a paper towel to open the door if in a public restroom.
Using Liquid Hand Sanitizers
Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs. If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol (read the label) can be used. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do NOT get rid of all types of germs or dirt.
Hand sanitizers are not effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy (after gardening, playing outdoors, fishing, working on a vehicle, etc.). Also, they don’t remove harmful chemicals like pesticides and heavy metals from hands.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are good to use in hospital or healthcare settings as an effective means to quickly reduce the spread of germs and viruses. However, hand sanitizers do not kill all germs, such as the norovirus and C. diff, which causes extreme diarrhea.
Be cautious when using hand sanitizers around children; swallowing alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning if a person swallows more than a couple mouthfuls. To properly use hand sanitizers, it is important to use the correct amount (read the label for directions) and be sure to apply over all the surfaces of the hands; rub until the hands are dry.
Handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself, your family and others from getting sick.
Washing your hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and can help you and others stay healthy. FBN
By Heather Boyd, B.S.N.
Heather Boyd, B.S.N., M.A., C.E.N., C.N.O.R., is the director of Compliance at The Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona.
The Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona, located on McMillian Mesa, is the only rehabilitation hospital in the region, serving all Northern Arizona. The 40-bed facility provides intensive rehabilitation services to people recovering from disabling diseases or injuries, such as strokes, brain, spinal cord and orthopedic injuries. For more information, visit rhna.ernesthealth.com or call 928-774-7070. Follow us on Facebook at Rehabilitation Hospital of Northern Arizona.