Flu season is upon us! Together with getting your flu vaccine, proper handwashing is the most important way to combat the illness and many others.
While handwashing is a habit (hopefully) most of us learned young, turns out there’s a good chance you’re not doing it right. In fact, a study by the USDA found that 97 percent of the time, people do it wrong! Among the biggest mistakes are not washing your hands for at least 20 seconds and not drying them with a clean towel.
Because keeping your hands clean is one of best ways to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others, it’s worth taking a few moments to either learn or review the five steps for properly washing your hands. They are:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. FYI, that’s the same amount of time you need to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head TWICE.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
The other key to avoiding getting sick and/or spreading germs is knowing WHEN to wash your hands. Must-do times include:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- 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 handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage.
For an extra measure of safety, you can also wash your hands every time you return home to avoid introducing germs from work, daycare, the grocery store, or anywhere else you’ve been to your family. Or, if someone in your home is sick, you may want to wash your hands as soon as you get to work or elsewhere to avoid introducing the illness to others.
While washing with soap and water has been proven to be the best way to get rid of germs in most situations, hand sanitizer is a good back-up when soap and water isn’t an option. Look for an alcohol-based sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Keep one in your car, purse, backpack, or lunch box. But do note that, while sanitizers can quickly knock down the number of germs on your hands, they do not get rid of all types of germs. In other words, there’s really no substitute for good old-fashioned handwashing done right.
Donna Barron BA, RN, CIC, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington. /i>