Do you wash your hands enough during cold and flu season? That depends on your definition of handwashing.
Let’s back up a step. One thing everyone agrees on is the importance of washing your hands. Handwashing is the single most effective way to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. During cold and flu season, that can make the difference between a week spent in bed and a week of good health.
According to the CDC, proper handwashing takes 20 seconds. A study done at Michigan State University found that most men and women fell far short of the recommended guidelines, with men washing for only an average of 6.27 seconds and women washing for an average of 7.07 seconds.
With handwashing like that, you may as well send an invitation to every cold and flu virus there is in your office.
So what is proper handwashing? According to the CDC and other health experts, you can be sure you’re doing a good job if you follow these four tips.
1. Use soap and warm water
Wet your hands with clean, warm running water and then lather up. Make sure to scrub the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers and under your nails. This action creates friction, which helps lift microbes from the skin so that they can be washed away.
2. Wash for at least 20 seconds
Here’s the part so many people get wrong: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. That’s about as long as it takes to sing the ABCs. The Michigan State University study found that only about 5% of people washed their hands long enough to kill germs. After that, make sure you rinse them thoroughly.
3. The right way to dry
You’ve washed your hands for 20 seconds, using plenty of soap and scrubbing vigorously. But you’re not done. A study by researchers at the University of Bradford in England examined the different methods of drying hands, including paper towels, traditional air dryers and a new model of hand dryer that uses high-velocity jets to rapidly get rid of the water. Researchers found the most effective way of keeping bacterial counts low, when drying hands, was using paper towels. The worst thing you can do, according to the study, is to use a conventional hand dryer and rub your hands together. Doing so can bring bacteria that lives within the skin to the surface, which makes it easier to transfer to other surfaces.
4. Using sanitizer instead
It happens to everyone. You’re out and about and can’t find a convenient place to wash your hands, so you rely on the hand sanitizer you carry with you. A good idea, right? Well, maybe. If you have dirty hands, that sanitizer cannot remove the dirt that may be trapping bacteria. Washing with water alone also has its limitations. It will remove dirt, but not much bacteria. If sanitizer or water is all you have access to, use it. But if you need to make a little extra effort to find a restroom, that’s always the best choice.
If that all sounds complicated, just remember the basics: Wash your hands while singing your ABCs and then dry them with a paper towel. Remember to lather up and you’ll be ahead of the 33% of the people in the Michigan State study who didn’t use any soap at all.
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are about handwashing during cold and flu season, you find yourself battling a cold or flu. And when a cold or flu brings shortness of breath, chest pain, a persistent fever or lasting cough—or if you can’t keep any food down or are dehydrated— it’s time to see a health care provider. Same-day appointments are available at Fisher-Titus Family Medicine offices at 419-660-2900.