The power to prevent the spread of disease-causing germs is literally in your hands.
The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that “handwashing is like a ‘do-it-yourself’ vaccine — it involves five simple and effective steps (wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry) you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness so you can stay healthy". Regular handwashing, particularly before and after certain activities, is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others.
How Germs Get Onto Hands And Make People Sick
Germs that cause problems such as diarrhea and respiratory infections can get onto your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper, but also in less obvious ways, such as handling raw meats that have invisible amounts of animal poop on them. Germs can also get onto your hands when you touch any object that was coughed or sneezed on or touched by another contaminated object. When these germs get onto hands and are not washed off, they can be passed from person to person and make people sick.
Clean Hands Are Important Because:
- People frequently touch their eyes, nose and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can enter the body through these openings and make you sick.
- Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks during preparation or consumption. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make you sick.
- Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, such as handrails, tables, counters or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands. Therefore, handwashing stops the spread of disease-causing germs that can make people sick.
When Should You 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 toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- 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
How Should You Wash Your Hands?
Following are five detailed steps for handwashing, along with some information about why each step is so important.
1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold – the temperature does not matter – both will remove germs, but warmer water might cause more skin irritation and is more costly in terms of your water bill), turn off the tap, and apply soap. You don’t want to re-contaminate your hands by dipping them into standing water that has been contaminated by previous use. Nor do you want to waste water by letting the tap run while you follow the next steps. What about germs on the tap handles? Should you use a towel to turn them on and off? The CDC reports that there is little data showing whether significant numbers of germs are transferred between hands and the faucet and asserts that this practice leads to increased use of water and towels, with no proven health benefit.
2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap to create friction that will lift the germs away. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails, where microbes are present in a particularly high concentration.
3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end two to three times. The optimal length of time for handwashing depends on many factors, including how soiled your hands are, what they are soiled with and what you are about to do with your then-clean hands, but evidence suggests that washing hands for 15-30 seconds removes more germs than washing for shorter periods.
4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Germs can be transferred more easily to and from wet hands; therefore, hands should be dried after washing. Studies suggest that using a clean towel or air drying hands is best.
What If I Need To Clean My Hands And There Is No Clean, Running Water Available?
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but keep in mind that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs and might not remove harmful chemicals. Also, hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. To use hand sanitizer:
- Apply the product 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.
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