Proper hand washing best way to avoid illness
By Lt. Col. (Dr.) Anthony Propst, Wilford Hall Hand Hygiene Compliance Team
/ Published March 03, 2008
LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Which of the following statements are true and which are myths?
- Killing germs on your hands decreases your immunity.
- Alcohol rubs sanitizers cause bacterial mutation and resistance.
- Alcohol rubs sanitizers kill germs better than soap and water.
Hand washing is a simple habit, something most people do without thinking. Yet hand washing, when done properly, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. This simple habit requires only soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, a cleanser that doesn't require water.
Despite the proven health benefits of hand washing, many people don't practice this habit as often as they should. Throughout the day you accumulate germs on your hands from a variety of sources, such as direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods and animals. If you don't wash your hands frequently enough, you can infect yourself or others with these germs.
Infectious diseases that are commonly spread through hand-to-hand contact include the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal viruses, such as the Norwalk and Rota viruses which cause infectious diarrhea. Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses, such as salmonella.
Good hand-washing techniques include washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Antibacterial soaps have become increasingly popular in recent years. However, these soaps are no more effective at killing germs than regular soap.
Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:
- Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
- Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds.
- Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
- Rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
- Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an excellent alternative to hand washing, particularly when soap and water aren't available. They're actually more effective than soap and water in killing bacteria and viruses that cause disease.
Not all hand sanitizers are created equal, though. Some "waterless" hand sanitizers don't contain alcohol. Use only the alcohol-based products. The Centers for Disease Control recommends choosing products that contain at least 60 percent alcohol.
To use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
- Apply about 1/2 teaspoon of the product to the palm of your hand.
- Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces of your hands, until they're dry.
You can help your children avoid getting sick by insisting that they wash their hands properly and frequently. To get kids into the habit, teach by example. Tell your children to wash their hands for as long as it takes them to sing their ABCs or the "Happy Birthday" song. Older children and adolescents also can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Younger children can use them, too -- with an adult's help. Just make sure the sanitizer has completely dried before your child touches anything.