Keeping Your Hands Clean 

HAND WASHINGAmy Movius MDThe influenza season was rough this year, filling Maine hospitals to capacity. Warnings about new “superbugs” are in the media nationally and abroad. Several schools across the country (including our neighbor Vermont) have temporarily shut down because of rampant stomach flu, which is making the rounds locally as well. How do you keep yourself healthy?? Wash your hands!Hand Washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent illness. Most of us use our hands constantly. Infection (germs) can be transferred to our hands by everything we touch. This infection can then be transferred into our bodies by touching our eyes or nose or mouth. Of course, if you already have an infection you can likewise spread it to everything you touch. These germs can then be picked up by others and so the infection goes around and around. It is estimated hand washing with soap could prevent 1 out of 3 cases of childhood diarrhea and 1 out of 6 cases of childhood respiratory infection worldwide (2,3).People tend to think they are more conscientious about hand washing than they really are. One study found that, even though over 90% of adults reported always washing their hands after using a public restroom, only about 4 out of 5 were actually doing it. In middle and high schools, less than 60% of girls and 50% of boys were observed to clean their hands after using school restrooms. People routinely admit to less hand washing after using their home bathrooms. Hand washing can dry and chap the skin. If skin irritation becomes a problem, pick a mild soap and moisturize after each washing. Sometimes there is no washing facility nearby. Keeping waterless soap or sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol) available is an alternative in this circumstance.Below is a list for when and how you should wash your hands – and gently remind others to do so if needed.Before: Eating After: Using the bathroom (or diaper changing) Blowing nose/coughing/sneezing Touching animals Touching pet food/treats Touching garbage Outdoor activitiesBefore and After: Preparing or serving food Taking care of a cut or wound Visiting/caring for anyone who’s sick How: Use any type of soap and warm running water Wash all of your hands: front and back, fingers, nails, wrists Wash for at least 20 seconds, or two rounds of “happy birthday” Rinse well and pat hands dry with a clean towel Use paper towels to turn faucets and door handles in public bathrooms1. – Cached2. Ejemot RI, Ehiri JE, Meremikwu MM, Critchley JA. Hand washing for preventing diarrhoea. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 Jan 23:(1):CD004265.3. Burton M, Cobb E, Donachie P, Judah G, Curtis V, Schmidt WP. The effect of handwashing with water or soap on bacterial contamination of hands. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jan:8(1):97-104. >