Believe it or not, one of the most effective ways to avoid colds, influenza, and other sicknesses this winter costs absolutely nothing: Handwashing is quick, easy, and free, and a great way to protect yourself from nasty germs.
“Handwashing is one of the easiest yet most important means for infection control available to us,” said Dr. John E. Snellings, assistant professor of Family and Community Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School. “The Centers for Disease Control cites studies that show handwashing can prevent 1-in-3 diarrhea-related sicknesses and 1-in-5 respiratory infections, such as a cold or the flu.”
Diarrhea-related illnesses, colds, and influenza are very common at this time of the year, so regular handwashing just might increase the chances of avoiding these illnesses by anywhere from 20-percent to 33-percent.
When someone is sick with a respiratory illness like a cold or influenza, they cough and they sneeze, and they leave germs behind on surfaces and objects. This can be tables, or door knobs, or copier buttons, or a computer mouse and keyboard, or even the telephones and cellphones they touch.
They can also transfer from hand to hand when two people shake hands.
Cold and flu viruses can live several hours on a surface, perhaps even up to 24 hours. So the germs are left behind long after an ill person has left the room.
Washing hands properly is important.
“Wet your hands, apply soap and lather, and scrub all surfaces of the hands – including back of hands, between fingers, and under nails – for 20 seconds. Rinse and dry with a clean towel or by air drying,” Snellings said.
Even if hands or fingers do happen to have a virus on them, that virus still needs to find a way into the body to infect a person. The virus itself will not enter they body through the skin.
“Unwashed hands can carry bacteria, viruses, and even parasites,” Snellings said. “Exposing these pathogens to the eyes, nose, and mouth, along with their associated mucous membranes, provides a direct route into the body and possible infection.”
So all care should be taken to avoid touching the eyes, the nose, or the mouth with unwashed hands. And hands should always be washed before eating or before preparing food for others to eat.
For more tips and information about Dr. handwashing visit the CDC website.