Vitamin C. Rest. Getting your annual flu shot. These are great ways to help prevent cold and flu, but one of the best ways to prevent spreading germs and coming down with these bugs lies right in the palm of your hands, with a little soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer, too.
Yes, we’re talking about handwashing.
Since many common diseases and conditions — like common colds, stomach bugs and flu — are passed to others though the hands, keeping them clean with improved hand washing habits is one of the best things you can do to prevent them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
How germs spread through hands
Think of how many things your hands touch on any given day… a lot!
Here are some ways that your hands can be a source of the germs that make us sick (CDC):
- Frequent touches to the eyes, nose, and mouth (often without even realizing it)
- Transmission of germs from hands to foods and drinks during preparation or while eating, where germs can multiply under certain conditions
- Germs from unwashed hands can transfer to handrails, table tops or toys, and then be transferred to another person’s hands.
Proof that handwashing works to keep you healthy
The numbers speak for themselves. Handwashing works to stop the spread of some of the most common illnesses. According to the CDC, handwashing has been shown to decrease:
- The number of people affected by diarrhea by 31%
- Diarrheal illness in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
- Respiratory illnesses (like colds) by 16-21%
When you should wash your hands
Did you know there are potentially 10 times each day that you should be washing your hands?
The CDC outlines when hand hygiene should come into play.
- Preparing and eating food
- Caring for someone who is sick
- Treating a cut or wound
- Preparing food
- Using the bathroom
- Changing diapers or helping a child use the bathroom
- Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- Touching an animal, feeding an animal or handling animal waste
- Touching pet food or pet treats
- Touching garbage
How you should wash your hands
Believe it or not, there is a proper way to wash your hands. It might seem simple, but to blast those microscopic bugs that could be lingering, the CDC suggests a five-step handwashing technique.
1. Wet your hands
- Use clean, running water (warm or cold)
- Turn off the tap and apply soap
- Rubbing your hands together and lather up the soap
- Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails
- Scrub for least 20 seconds
- Tip: Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
- Turn the water back on and rinse well under the clean, running water
- Use a clean towel or air dry your hands
When you should use hand sanitizer
Handwashing with soap and water is preferred, but if you’re in a sticky spot without it, there is a second-best alternative to get your hands clean: hand sanitizer.
When soap and water are not available, a 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer is another way to decrease the number of germs on your hands. It is important to note that sanitizers are not as effective as hand washing (especially if hands are visibly dirty or greasy), often leaving some types of germs still on the hands.
How to use hand sanitizers
- Apply the product to the palm of one hand. The label will tell you the correct amount to use.
- Rub hands together
- Rub the product over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry
Remember, preventing your next cold could be a hand wash away. Go into your next cold and flu season armed with hand hygiene habits to keep you and your family safe and healthy.