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Wash Your Hands!
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“Wash your hands!” You heard that from your mother. You may think it old-fashion, unnecessary advice.

Here are two good reasons it is still important: a new strain of norovirus from Australia and this year’s influenza epidemic. Hand-washing is the first line of defense against both diseases as well viral and bacterial upper respiratory infections. You are more likely to catch something from a doorknob than from air in a crowded room.

Viruses spend little time airborne. Someone with influenza or the common cold can spread the disease by coughing, but the viruses they expel soon settle on some surface – a hand, a tissue or handkerchief, the back of a chair or on a desktop.

Intestinal viruses, like norovirus, that live in the digestive system get spread through vomit or fecal particles. These also settle on surfaces, including hands. Since norovirus gives its victims diarrhea and nausea, sufferers spread the virus involuntarily, generally though physical contact with infected material, which are passed onto other surfaces through touch.  

Once lodged on a surface, viruses go dormant waiting for a more hospitable environment – like you. Viruses can survive in that state for a long time. Extreme cold or heat kills viruses, but most buildings do not reach those extremes. Water dislodges them, but does not kill them. Bleach, alcohol, and other disinfectants kill viruses, but few buildings are regularly disinfected.

Properly washing your hands is the first line of defense against viruses and bacteria, too when done right.

Here’s How
  • Wet your hands thoroughly under running water.  
  • Apply soap and rub your hands thoroughly. Scrub for at least twenty seconds. (A good mental timer is to silently sing a verse of either ‘Happy Birthday’ or ‘My Country Tis of Thee’ while you scrub.) Scrub the back of your hands and between your fingers as well.
  • Rinse your hands thoroughly under running water.
  • Use a clean towel to dry your hands. 
In a public restroom once your hands are clean, avoid touching anything other than the towel, if possible.  Use the towel to turn off the faucet and open the door. Then, dispose of the towel. (If the restroom lacks paper towels, bring tissues with you and use those to turn off the faucet and open the door.)

Antibacterial soap is no more effective than regular soap. Hand washing works by removing disease-causing agents, not by killing them. Soap loosens any grime or oil on your hands allow water to rinse any dirt and disease off your hands. Using antibacterial soap may actually be counterproductive, as it encourages development of bacteria resistant to antimicrobial agents.

Wash your hands before eating and preparing food, treating injuries or inserting and removing contact lenses.

Wash your hands after preparing food (especially poultry), going to the bathroom or changing a diaper, touching waste or garbage, and blowing your nose.

Washing your hands is basic hygiene. It does not take much time, and it offers many benefits. Your mother was right. Wash your hands!

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2013 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.


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