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This Holiday Season, Put Hand Hygiene at the Top of Your List

December 18, 2012

"This is a high risk time of year for influenza because the virus is more prevalent in the environment," said Lia Estadi, RN, infection preventionist at Washington Hospital. "In addition, cold temperatures can cause serious health problems, especially in infants and older adults. A good hand washing is the first line of defense against the spread of many illnesses."

Some diseases are spread from person to person by touching, coughing or sneezing, Estadi explained. When someone touches something in the environment that is contaminated and does not wash their hands properly afterwards, they can get sick. They may touch their own face or spread the disease to other people by touching them.

In addition to helping to prevent the spread of flu, good hand washing can also fight the spread of a number of other illnesses from the common cold to more serious illnesses, such as Hepatitis A, most types of infectious diarrhea and some multi drug resistant organisms, such as MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).

"Everyone should be vigilant about flu prevention, but it is even more important for older people and children under the age of 6," advised Estadi. "Individuals in these groups are at higher than average risk, especially if they have chronic conditions or a low functioning immune system."

To wash your hands properly, the Centers for Disease Control recommends the following steps:

Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.

Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well; be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands well under running water.

Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

To help people, especially children wash for the prescribed length of time. Estadi suggests they continue washing their hands for as long as it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice over, which equates to about 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based sanitizer works just as well.

When you wash your hands is just as important we how you do it. Besides the concern over spreading infectious disease like the flu and the common cold, there is also a major concern about exposure to contaminated food. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you wash your hands at the following times during the holidays and all year through:

After blowing your nose or sneezing

After each time you use the toilet. Pathogens can also be picked up from previous users of the toilet via door handles, taps and drying towels.

Before food preparation

Before eating

Before serving food

During food preparation to avoid cross contamination

Before and after handling raw meat, poultry and fish products

After changing diapers

After handling unsanitary objects such as waste or garbage containers

After touching or handling livestock or pets

"In all of these activities, hands may become contaminated with pathogens or toxic chemical residues that can be transferred to food," states WHO.

Besides hand washing, other things you can do to lower your risk for getting the flu are to cover your coughs and sneezes and to get a flu shot.

"When it comes to teaching children good preventive practices, the best thing adults can do is help them understand the importance of hand hygiene and teach them how and when to wash their hands so it is more likely to become a lifelong habit for them," added Estadi.

Washington Hospital has a longstanding commitment to hand hygiene both inside the Hospital and in the community. For example, it has been working with local schools for the past five years to teach students how and when to wash their hands. Through its Community Health Improvement Program, Hospital staff visit the schools, conducting interactive hand hygiene sessions for more than 1,000 students each year.

Learn more.

To learn more about hand hygiene and flu prevention, go to Washington Hospital's Web site at www.whhs.com/flu-shot. Washington Urgent Care offers flu shots. Open 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Washington Urgent Care is located at 2500 Mowry Avenue, Suite 212 in Fremont. To find out how to get a flu vaccination, call Washington Hospital's Health Connection hotline at (800) 963-7070.

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