Hand washing – a key to prevention

Hand washing – a key to prevention

“Did you wash your hands?”

The question asked by mothers everywhere takes on even more importance during a flu epidemic. Hand washing is a simple way to prevent illness; it stops the spread of germs from place to place and person to person.

Believe it or not, hand washing wasn’t always popular – even in the medical community.

It has only been since 1847, when Ignac Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician discovered that hand washing between the dissection room and the examination room not only prevented disease, but decreased mortality rates of “childbed fever” from 18.27 to 1.27 percent. However, Semmelweis’ practice did not become customary until Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory.

Today there is no question that hand washing is important, yet more than 20 percent of people don’t wash their hands regularly after using the bathroom.

When done properly this simple activity can drastically reduce the spread of germs and disease.

Hand washing 101

You should wash your hands after going to the bathroom, changing a diaper, or after exposure to any type of waste. You should also wash your hands after sneezing, coughing, being in contact with someone who is ill, or contacting surfaces in public places – restrooms, gyms, grocery stores, etc.

There are three main things to consider when you wash your hands. First, water temperature is important. Use warm water. Many soaps have been designed to work most effectively with warm water. Water hot enough to kill germs would scald the skin; cold water makes hand washing for longer periods of time unpleasant.

Time is the next consideration. Lather your hands and rub them briskly for at least 20 seconds – the time it takes to sing the alphabet, or sing “Happy Birthday” twice. It takes time to dislodge the dirt and bacteria from the skin. The lather attracts these germs and lifts them from the skin, so they can be rinsed away.

Finally, pay attention to how you dry your hands. While most of us use a cloth towel to dry our hands, it may not be the best practice. Hand towels become moist and harbor bacteria. Disposable towels are best for drying your hands. If you are in a public restroom and have access to a disposable towel, you may want to keep it after you dry your hands. Use it to open the restroom door – after all, at least 20 percent of the people that left before you, left without washing.

Hand washing Awareness

December 6 – 12 is National Hand washing Awareness Week. It’s a great time to review the importance of handwashing and demonstrate the proper techniques. Parents and educators may want to visit www.henrythehand.com for fun ways to teach children the importance of washing their hands. Henry the hand teaches children four principles of hand awareness. One of which is to stay away from the “T Zone”, the eyes, nose or mouth. The mucous membranes in those areas act as a gateway for germs to enter the body.

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