Handwashing, an Amazing Safeguard

Did you know there is something so simple that we can do daily to protect ourselves from germs?  Washing our hands!

“Regular and effective handwashing has proven to reduce the spread of contagious diseases. Using soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on them. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” said Dr. Asa Oxner, of USF Health’s General Internal Medicine.

Germs are transient invisible microorganisms that linger and spread the potential for illness. They are all around us, in the air and on surfaces we frequently touch. When we touch our eyes, nose and mouth, we are giving the germs entry points that could make us sick.

“Cold germs can be present for days in an interior space, but typically remain infectious for 24 hours. Some germs are hardier, like the highly contagious norovirus germs, which cause vomiting and diarrhea. They can survive on hard surfaces for days or weeks if conditions permit,” Dr. Oxner added.

Germs can be easily transferred to our hands from public settings by using fixtures, such as handrails and doorknobs. Frequently used objects, like cell phones, keyboards, remote controls and keychains, become portable germ collectors in homes. They can continue to travel and spread to germ hot spots like bathrooms and kitchens, especially kitchen sponges, countertops, and toothbrush holders. Germs also find their way into food and drinks and can multiply in certain food preparation conditions.

Handwashing Best Practices

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention recommends following these steps to thoroughly wash your hands to actively prevent the spread of germs and stay healthy. Remember to wash your hands often and thoroughly, after playing with your dog, before meals, and after using the bathroom.

WET: Run clean warm water over your hands.

LATHER: Lather back of hands, between fingers and under nails.

SCRUB: Scrub your hands for 20 seconds or sing the Happy Birthday song twice.

RINSE: Thoroughly rinse your hands of soap.

DRY: Dry your hands with a clean towel or hand dryer.

Global Health Concern

Unfortunately, washing hands in different parts of the world without soap or use of an anti-bacterial aid is a very common practice. According to the CDC , it is estimated that only 19% of the world’s population washes hands after using the bathroom or before eating. The CDC also suggests that the simple practice of handwashing with soap could help save 1.8 million children under age 5 every year from the serious health threats of diarrhea and pneumonia for young children. In addition, this good hygiene habit developed early in children can aid in child development.

By adopting better handwashing habits, the health of our community would be improved:

  • Diarrhea – Reduces the number of people who contract diarrhea by about 23-40%
  • Respiratory illnesses, like colds – Reduces the number of people who fall sick by about 16-21%
  • Gastrointestinal Illness – Reduces absenteeism in schoolchildren by 29-57%

Take the time to follow the CDC’s steps to keep your hands clean and germ free: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry. It’s an easy and effective way to stay healthy.

To make an appointment with USF Health’s General Internal Medicine team, call (813) 974-2201.

Written By: Kathleen Rogers

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