Stay Healthy by Washing Your Hands
Why Hand Washing Is Important During Cold and Flu Season
When it comes to basic personal hygiene, I remember my mother always saying, “Soap and water are cheap.” Of course, when I was a kid, water was cheap.
Now, government regulations and other issues regarding municipal water treatment facilities have made water an expensive commodity. It’s still cheaper than treating illnesses.
Health officials all agree that one of the surest ways of increasing your chances of staying healthy is to wash your hands several times a day. How simple is that? Yet, no matter how diligent we are about personal hygiene, most of us don’t wash our hands nearly as frequently as we should.
A Word About Antibacterial Soaps
Nowadays, advertisements for antibacterial soaps tout their germicidal capabilities. According to the Mayo Clinic, antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. They further caution that the use of antibacterial soaps may produce bacteria that become resistant to the soap’s antibacterial agents, making it harder to kill those bacteria in the future.
Another concern is the effect antibacterial agents have on the beneficial bacteria in septic systems. The Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota reports that the use of antibacterial or disinfectant products in the home does destroy good and bad bacteria in the treatment system. They say that using normal amounts of these products will destroy some beneficial bacteria, but that the population will remain sufficient and recover quickly. The problem is in defining “normal amounts.” Hopefully, further studies will be able to define what is excessive.
It seems to me that until environmental officials call for a ban on antibacterial soaps, go ahead and use them if they make you feel like you’re doing something extra. Apparently, it may be a “placebo" kind of thing.
Daily Occurrences That Can Make You Sick
Want to gross yourself out? Just stop and think for a minute about all the nasty situations you encounter during a normal day. Look around you. You constantly see people with their fingers in places you wouldn’t allow your fingers to be…in their noses and ears, on surfaces you wouldn’t touch, and doing things that give you the creeps.
It often happens that you can’t avoid being a participant in those situations. I owned a small retail store and would cringe every time a customer would lick their fingers to separate money, and then hand the bills to me.
Just think of all the filth you can come in contact with from your everyday activities. You're constantly touching germ-laden surfaces such as doorknobs, money, bathroom fixtures, ATM machine keypads, handshakes, the tongs at the salad bar, the water cooler, the coffeemaker. I’ll bet you can come up with more. It’s enough to make one paranoid!
The Two-Pronged Soap Attack
As you touch people and various objects during the day, you can pick up harmful bacteria that can infect you when you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Just think about how you dutifully wash your hands after using a public restroom, only to have to grasp the door handle in order to leave. Others who grasped that same handle before you may not have washed their hands after seeing to their needs.
In turn, you can infect others when you touch them or their stuff. The germs have got us, coming and going. How many times have you "come down with something" and blamed it on being around someone when they sneezed or coughed? You could just as easily have picked the germs up from a door handle, money, or an ATM pin pad.
If everyone practiced frequent hand washing, we could greatly reduce the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses, thus increasing the general health of the overall population.
Step-By-Step Hand Washing Manual
- Lather up, scrub the palms and backs of your hands, wrists, and under your nails for 20 seconds.
- Dry ‘em. Preferably with a paper towel. When practical, turn off the faucet with the paper towel and also use the paper towel to grasp the doorknob on your way out.
Surgeons must scrub their hands, with a brush, for at least 10 minutes before slicing into our gorgeous bodies.
The experts say 20 seconds is enough for us to greatly reduce the spread of germs that we would be responsible for spreading. A good way to help small children understand that time element, is to have them scrub their hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
Do You Constantly Reinforce The Importance Of Hand Washing To Your Children?
The Contemporary Cough and Sneeze Protocol
Our parents taught us to cover our mouths and noses with our hands when we sneezed or coughed. That, of course, just deposits a mother lode of germs on our hands, but I guess back then we were probably thinking more of courtesy than disease prevention. Somehow it seems that we didn't take germs as seriously as we do now.
Health officials now say that when you can't cough or sneeze into a tissue, the best way to prevent our germs from infecting others is to cough or sneeze into our elbows. I think the word is getting out. I know I see more and more people doing that…just before they lick their fingers and hand some poor cashier their money.
Do You Lick Your Fingers To Separate Money Or Pages?
A Word About Hand Sanitizer
Health officials seem to be united in their position that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are second-best, especially if your hands are visibly dirty.
While able to quickly reduce the number of germs on hands, sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs. When buying hand sanitizers, choose brands that contain at least 60% alcohol. Of course, alcohol isn’t really kind to our skin. Its drying effect, especially during the winter when the air is already very dry, contributes to painful dry, chafed skin, that splits and cracks.
The frequent use of lotions and creams will help keep skin supple, and you might ask your doctor if taking a fish oil supplement daily would help your dry skin.
Health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offer a laundry list of actions that result in the need for hand washing.
Just about everything we touch is germ-laden. Our day-to-day activities that require a hand washing follow-up could turn the procedure into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fortunately, our immune system protects us against most bacterial and viral invaders.
However, the immune system occasionally can’t handle the onslaught and we do get sick. As long as we make frequent hand washing a regular routine, we stand a much better chance against the germs we constantly encounter.
- Mayo Clinic: Handwashing: Do's and Don't's
- University of Minnesota, The Water Resource Center: Does antibacterial soap threaten wastewater treatment?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives
- National Institutes of Health: Hand hygiene: Back to the basics of infection control
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Bob Bamberg