Volume XVII, Issue 37 # September 10 - September 16, 2009

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Proper hand hygiene can save you from the flu

by Diana Beechener

Keeping healthy is the new American Dream in the dreaded upcoming flu season.

Gov. Martin O’Malley proclaimed it patriotic to get a flu shot to prevent the H1N1 epidemic from worsening.

With swine flu and thousands of other viral strains primed for attack, O’Malley’s healthy sense of patriotism can keep you well — and alive. The easiest way to foil microbial invaders: Wash Your Hands.

“I hope all of you are washing your hands a lot,” President Barack Obama told school children.

Consider what is lurking on your hands, waiting to attack. Scientists at the University of Arizona found that your palms can house thousands of bacteria and microbes because we use our hands for everything from petting the dog to opening doors.

“Things like the flu are really easily transmitted if you don’t hand wash and often,” says Dr. Jinlene Chan, from Anne Arundel front lines of disease control. “People often touch their noses or their mouth or their eyes during the day — that’s how germs get into our bodies. I’ve been shocked at how people either walk out of a bathroom, or run their hands under water for a second.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you wash your hands with warm water and anti-microbial soap for 20 seconds. In a 2002 study, the CDC found that most Americans wash their hands in less than 15 seconds.

What difference will five seconds make? Rubbing your hands together under a stream of water will wash away large germs and infectious material while leaving embedded bacteria to infect another day. For an easy way to time your washing: Sing Happy Birthday to yourself twice.

True hand-washing patriots go beyond slapping their palms together with soap to working soap under their nails. When you’re done, dry your hands using paper towels or an air dryer; damp organic surfaces can help bacteria to breed. Use a paper towel (or a sleeve) to turn off the faucet that your dirty hands — and countless others — just touched.

If you can’t get to running water and soap, you haven’t lost the battle. Alcohol-based gels such as Purell will kill most microbes.

The battle doesn’t end with hands. The famous mantra Cover your cough may cause you more harm if you don’t do it properly.

“We’ve been told to cover our coughs with our hands,” explains Chan. “The new recommendation is to use a tissue or your elbow. That reduces the possibility of your hands getting contaminated. Your hands are important. Don’t sneeze into them.”

In the battle against bacteria, trust no one. Just because a surface or person looks clean does not mean that they are devoid of bacteria. Seemingly innocent objects such as telephones, keyboards, elevator buttons and doorknobs are rife with bacteria.

When in doubt, wash your hands again. It’s your patriotic duty.