National Handwashing Awareness Week shines a spotlight on a health habit that’s essential yet often overlooked: handwashing. At Premier Family Medical, we’re passionate about educating our patients on the importance of good hygiene practices, which can protect us from a host of infections and diseases. Here’s how you can keep your hands clean and your body healthy.

How Germs Spread

Understanding the transmission of germs is fundamental to appreciating the role of handwashing. Germs can spread in a variety of ways: through direct contact with an infected individual, through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze, or by touching surfaces that have been contaminated. These pathogens can survive on surfaces for hours or even days, depending on the environment. Regular handwashing with soap disrupts the lipid membranes of viruses and bacteria, effectively neutralizing them. It’s a barrier not just against gastrointestinal and respiratory infections but also a preventative measure against skin and eye infections.

The spread of germs, particularly through sneezing and unwashed hands, is a significant concern. According to the CDC, proper hand hygiene is one of the most effective ways to halt the transmission of pathogens. The practice of thorough handwashing with running water and soap is a fundamental measure endorsed by health organizations worldwide, including the WHO, to combat the spread of germs and maintain clean hands.

Key Times to Wash Hands

There are critical moments when handwashing is most beneficial. Apart from the general advice of washing hands before eating and after using the bathroom, it’s also essential during food preparation, both before and after, to prevent foodborne illnesses. Washing hands after handling garbage, touching animals, or visiting the sick are other key times. In the era of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, handwashing after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing is particularly important to stop the spread of germs.

Follow Five Steps to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

Proper handwashing involves these five steps:

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

Use Hand Sanitizer When You Can’t Use Soap and Water

Hand sanitizers are a supplementary hand hygiene practice, especially when soap and water aren’t immediately available. They should contain at least 60% alcohol to be effective. It’s important to note that sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs, and they are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. They should be used as an interim measure until proper handwashing can be performed.

How to Use Hand Sanitizer

To properly use hand sanitizer, apply a product to one palm, then rub your hands together, making sure the product covers all surfaces of your hands and fingers. Rub until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds. Avoid wiping your hands or washing them immediately after applying the sanitizer, as this will diminish its effectiveness.

Tips for Kids

A woman and child practicing good hygiene by washing their hands together in a sink.

Instilling good hand hygiene habits in children is vital. Making it a fun and regular part of their routine can help ensure that they practice handwashing throughout their lives. Teach them to sing a song while washing hands to make sure they scrub long enough, and use soaps with appealing fragrances or colors to make the process more enjoyable. Always supervise young children to ensure they’re washing correctly and for the right amount of time.

The Bigger Picture: Infection Prevention and Disease Control

Hand hygiene plays a significant role in infection prevention, particularly in healthcare settings where disease control is paramount. Regular and proper hand hygiene is a simple yet effective infection control strategy that contributes to preventing antibiotic resistance and maintaining the efficacy of disinfectants.

Premier Family Medical recognizes the importance of handwashing, not just during National Handwashing Awareness Week but as a continuous commitment to health. By educating on proper handwashing and hand hygiene, promoting the use of soap, water, and alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and reinforcing these practices, we reinforce the ethos of proactive health and hygiene. As we approach the season where the flu and other respiratory infections become more prevalent, let’s pledge to practice and advocate for good hand hygiene to protect ourselves and our communities