On Your Health

Check back to the INTEGRIS On Your Health blog for the latest health and wellness information for all Oklahomans, published three times a week.

How to Wash Your Hands

Did you know washing your hands is basically a "do-it-yourself" vaccine? If performed correctly, it can help stop the spread of illness so you, and the people around you, can stay healthy. Regular hand washing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the quickest, simplest and best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of germs to others.

This Saturday, May 5, the World Health Organization sponsors Global Hand Hygiene Day. It's a timely reminder of the role careful hand washing plays in keeping you well.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these are the most important times to wash your hands.

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the bathroom
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom
  • 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

Proper handwashing techniques

Now that you know when to wash your hands, have you given much thought to how you do it? The CDC says if you’re like most people, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Many people quickly run their hands under the tap and commonly miss under their nails, their fingertips (which are particularly important since fingertips are how you touch things), the spaces between their fingers and their thumbs.

Also, most people don’t spend enough time washing their hands. According to the WHO, it takes 20-40 seconds to get your hands clean.

The WHO says you should get a good lather going, and then spend a few seconds on each of the following: rubbing hands palm to palm, rubbing the backs of palms with fingers, rubbing the fronts of palms with fingers, rubbing the backs of fingers on the opposing palm with fingers interlocked, rubbing the fingertips against the opposite palm, working around the fingernails, grasping each thumb in the opposite palm and rubbing. And don't forget to lather your wrists! If possible, turn off the tap with your elbow or a clean towel when you're finished.

If this plan sounds a little too complicated, the CDC has broken it down into five simple and easy steps:

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. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.

Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

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

What about fancy antibacterial soap?

Nothing beats plain old soap and water. Most experts are against the crop of antibacterial hand soaps that have appeared in the last few years.

Due to aggressive marketing, many people now believe that all bacteria are dangerous, but the reality? Most bacteria are not harmful, and many are actually good for the environment. But if you use a soap that kills all bacteria, you’re making it easier to create superbugs, and giving an advantage to the bug that is resistant.

In fact, good hand hygiene plays a role in the fight against antibiotic resistance, too. If you succeed in reducing the spread of infection through good hand hygiene, you need fewer antibiotics. The fewer antibiotics in use, the less antibiotic resistance there is.

What about hand sanitizers?

Experts agree washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them. In particular, hand sanitizers are not very effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.

But if soap and water are not available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations. It’s important to note that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals on the hands.

If you do need to use a hand sanitizer, here are some tips.

  • Apply the product generously to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  • Rub your hands together.
  • Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry.

Still not convinced? Here is the science!

Hand washing really does help people stay healthy. There are hundreds of studies that prove how effective hand washing is when done correctly. For example, according to the CDC, proper education within communities about hand washing has the effect of reducing the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent, reducing diarrhea in people with weakened immune systems by 58 percent and reducing respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by 16-21 percent.

Really, the science just underscores what makes common sense: if you wash your hands very regularly during the day using a good method that gets the bug off your hands, then that reduces the chance you will get the bug in your mouth or in your eyes or nose where it can cause infection. So, please remember to wash those digits, palms and wrists. Good health is in your hands!

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