Hand washing saves lives

Released: 02/23/16

How could something as simple as washing your hands actually save your life?

According the World Health Organization, 80% of infections are spread by dirty hands and washing your hands often is the single best defense against illness.

“During this time of year, many people become increasing anxious about their chances of catching colds, influenza, and this year, even mumps,” says Maggie Busta, RN, infection preventionist at Winneshiek Medical Center. “It is important to remember that simple hand washing with soap and water will help you avoid ‘catching’ many of these illnesses.”

Our hands transmit disease and viruses from door knobs, faucets, keyboards, table tops, tools, utensils and more. “In the healthcare setting, proper hand washing is a very, very important part of the daily routine we demand from all our staff because we know it can prevent infections from spreading from patient to patient and from patient to healthcare worker and vice-versa.” It is important that we all practice good hand washing at home too. “Hand washing can prevent infectious diseases such as diarrhea or influenza from spreading from family member to family member and, sometimes, throughout a community,” Busta adds.

Everyone should wash their hands especially before preparing food, after changing diapers, and after using the bathroom. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends these simple steps for effective hand washing:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands. Other ways you can avoid spreading germs is by covering mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and put the used tissue in trash can. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbows, not your hands. Avoid sharing drinks or eating utensils and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as toys, doorknobs, tables and counters.

Busta adds, “We want you to stay healthy and we encourage you to take action and practice good hand washing often, and don’t be shy, ask those around you to do the same.” For more information on hand washing, visit Mayo Clinic – Hand-Washing: Do’s and don’ts.

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