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Effective Handwashing Is a Great Way to Avoid Infection, Illness

December 13, 2011

Nobody wants to get sick, particularly during flu season. You can significantly improve your odds of staying well by washing your hands frequently and following other flu prevention tips.

National Handwashing Awareness Week is observed this month, and it’s a great opportunity to evaluate your handwashing practices, making sure they are as effective as possible.

“Handwashing is the number one most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious disease,” says Mary Bowron, R.N., Washington Hospital’s Infection Control Coordinator. “Regular handwashing represents the best known and cheapest way of preventing the spread of disease.”

One of Bowron’s roles in the hospital is to educate new employees about effective handwashing etiquette.

“This has to be one of my biggest pushes as infection control coordinator,” she says. “During hospital orientation, the first thing we do is teach proper handwashing since it represents the backbone of infection control.”

But proper handwashing techniques are just as important for the general population, according to Bowron.

“People in the community often don’t realize the extent of germs on their hands,” she points out.

By following recommended hand hygiene guidelines, you can help keep your family and community healthier this year by reducing the spread of germs.

If your hands are visibly soiled:

  • Wash them with warm water – if available – and soap, making sure to get each part of the hand (palms, back of hands, under fingernails, webbing between the fingers, etc.) all the way up to the wrists for 15 seconds.
  • After rinsing your hands, dry them with a paper towel and shut off the water with a paper towel.

If you do not have access to soap and running water:

  • Apply an alcohol-based sanitizer, create friction for 15 seconds or until alcohol is dried, again making sure to rub all surfaces of each hand.

Hand sanitizer is effective

Bowron says that when used correctly, hand sanitizer is just as effective as washing with soap and water unless your hands are visibly soiled. For hand sanitizers to work, hands need to be free of visible dirt and you must also use the enough of the hand gel to get protection. It’s recommended you squirt an amount of gel about the size of a dime into your hands. Then rub vigorously so all sides of your hands get wet. Rub hands together until they are dry.

Just as important as how to effectively wash your hands is when to wash them, Bowron says.

To reduce the possibility of spreading germs to the mucus membrane of your eyes, nose and mouth, it is important to wash your hands:

  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after using the restroom
  • Before and after direct contact with other people
  •  After sneezing or coughing

“Keep your hands off your face, because that’s how infections really get transmitted – by touching your face after contact with someone who is sick,” Bowron says.

Another important way of reducing the spread of infection, she says, is to follow proper respiratory etiquette. So what does that mean?

“One of the things we’re trying to teach people is to cough into your elbow to keep your hands clean,” she explains. “We’re especially trying to emphasize this lesson with kids: ‘Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow, not your hands’.”

Good respiratory etiquette also includes using tissues to contain mouth or nose secretions and disposing of the soiled tissue in a proper waste receptacle.

Bowron says that many places in the community, such as schools and workplaces, are supplying hand sanitizers – making it easier to keep your hands clean even when you don’t have access to soap and water.

“Wash your hands frequently,” she says, pointing out that, “You can never wash your hands too much.”

Clean hands, healthier you

For more information about handwashing, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web page at www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing. To learn more about good hand hygiene principles for adults and children, visit www.henrythehand.com.

Get a Flu Shot

If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccination yet, visit Washington Urgent Care:

Washington Urgent Care

2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 212
Date/Time: Seven Days a Week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Call: (510) 791-CARE (2273) or visit www.whhs.com/urgentcare for more information