Healthy Alaska column
FAIRBANKS — “Did you wash your hands?”
If you’re a parent, a grandparent, a daycare provider or a preschool teacher, it’s likely you hear yourself ask this question at least 14 times a day… per child.
With school just starting, and cold and flu season upon us, now is a great time to recap the importance of washing our hands frequently and the proper, most effective way to wash them.
Simply put, hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of infections. Period. Do you want to know the secret to avoid getting sick? Wash your hands frequently. It’s as easy as that.
In recent years, health officials have begun educating the public that this one simple action is of life-saving importance. When practiced properly, good hand hygiene can make the difference between becoming seriously ill and preventing illness in ourselves and our families.
Throughout the day you accumulate thousands of germs on your hands as you come into contact with different things — the coffee you get from your favorite barista on your way to work, the counter at the front office at school when you drop off lunch money or late homework, the magazine you skim in the waiting room, the buttons on the copy machine at work, the pin pad on the ATM, and especially the money that comes out of it.
You can pick up germs in the washroom, after blowing your nose, sneezing into your hands, before, during and after eating, handling food, drinking or smoking.
You can get germs from touching raw meat, handling garbage, visiting or caring for sick people, petting your dog or cleaning up after your cat.
Germs are in your car, they are on your desk at work, they are on the grocery cart where you shop, and they are all over your house, especially on door handles, telephones, keyboards and other items commonly shared by family members.
Do your children play sports? Hockey gear, football pads and soccer shin guards are breeding grounds for germs.
Bottom line: There are hundreds of thousands of germs, and the single most-effective way to combat them is to wash your hands.
Germs are spread by touching an object or a person and then touching your face — specifically your eyes, your nose or your mouth. Try not touching your eyes, your nose or your mouth. It’s hard to do, if it’s even possible. But it is possible to drastically reduce the number of germs we expose ourselves to just by washing our hands.
“Good” hand washing techniques include using an adequate amount of soap, rubbing your hands together to create friction and then rinsing them under warm running water. Work up lather on both sides of your hands, your wrists and between your fingers. Pay special attention to wash around your nails.
To prevent washing your hands too quickly, consider washing your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” (twice) or choose your favorite 15 seconds of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, or the chorus of Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight.” Sing anything, but just keep humming and washing for 15 to 20 seconds.
Germs can spread quickly among children, so it’s especially important to teach children the importance of frequent hand washing and the proper technique to do so. Help encourage children (and family members) to wash their hands by putting hand washing reminders near the sinks in your house.
There are times when we might find ourselves in a situation where water is not available, as is frequently the case in Alaska. When water and soap are not available, hand sanitizer is an easy alternative. These alcohol-based sanitizers are an acceptable alternative, but make sure the product you choose contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
To use hand sanitizer properly, apply a dime-sized amount to the palm of your hand and then rub your hands and fingers together for at least 20 to 30 seconds. If your hands become dry before this time, you did not use enough. Hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, and they’re not effective when your hands are visibly dirty.
Hand washing is one of the quickest, easiest and cheapest ways to keep ourselves and our families healthy. Now, put down the paper and go wash your hands.
• Wash your hands, often. Encourage your children and family members to do the same.
• Routinely clean and disinfect surfaces and frequently touched objects. A 10 percent bleach solution is best (Nine parts water to one part bleach).
• Handle and prepare your food safely.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you sneeze.
• Don’t share water bottles, lip balms, lotions or other personal items.
• To learn more about hand washing and keeping healthy visit the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov.
Fairbanks Memorial Hospital employees Helen Lazeration, RN, BSN coordinator, infection prevention, and Teresa Hrubes, RN, occupational health manager, provided information for this column.