On Your Health

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Doctor Oklahoma Podcast- Episode 10: Coronavirus

How to Wash Your Hands to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

The number of coronavirus cases continues to climb in the U.S. The disease has killed six people in the country so far. As of Tuesday, March 3, there were more than 100 cases in 15 states. Worldwide, more than 90,000 people have been infected and 3,100 killed across more than 50 countries. You may feel worried and wonder how you can protect yourself and your family, but take heart: good health is literally in your hands. Simple hand washing is basically a "do-it-yourself" vaccine.

If performed correctly, it can prevent the spread of life-threatening illnesses like Covid-19, so that you, and the people around you, stay healthy. Doctors recommend washing your hands many times a day, particularly before and after certain activities. It’s one of the quickest, simplest and best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick and prevent the spread of disease to others.

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 hand washing 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 experts, it takes 20-40 seconds to get your hands clean.

The CDC has broken it down into five simple and easy steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. 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.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. 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 is, 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. 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. It’s important to note that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, though.

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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