Health Care

Understanding the Role of Hand Hygiene

Mother showing her daughter how to wash her hands at the kitchen sink.

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Hand-washing is one of the best ways to protect your family from getting sick. Proper hand-washing prevents the spread of germs and can keep common respiratory and diarrheal infections from developing. Cases of viral illnesses tend to spike during the colder season, and it’s a great time to improve your education about hand hygiene and give everyone a much-needed reminder.

The Importance of Hand Hygiene

Many diseases and conditions are spread when people don’t wash their hands or don’t wash them well. That’s because germs like salmonella, e. coli and norovirus can transfer from our hands to the surfaces we commonly touch, like handrails, tabletops, doorknobs and toys — and then spread to others when they touch the same surfaces.

Germs find their way into our bodies through our eyes, nose and mouth — the parts of our bodies we touch often without even realizing it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that washing your hands with soap reduces:

  • The number of people who get sick with diarrhea by up to 40%
  • Diarrheal infections in people with weakened immune systems by 58%
  • Respiratory illnesses, like colds, in the general population by up to 21%

While hand hygiene is critical to reducing your risk of infection, preventing sickness also reduces antibiotic resistance, meaning fewer people are prescribed antibiotics, so they’re more likely to work when needed.

Effective Handwashing Tips

Here are some key times to wash your hands.

  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After changing a diaper or helping a child who has used the bathroom
  • After touching an animal, handling their food or picking up their waste
  • After touching garbage
  • After using the bathroom
  • Before and after caring for someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea
  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after treating a cut
  • Before, during and after food preparation

The CDC advises following the same five steps every time you wash your hands:

  1. Wet — first, wet your hands with clean, running water (either warm or cold). Then turn off the tap and apply soap to your hands
  2. Lather — after you’ve applied soap, lather your hands by rubbing them together. Don’t skip the backs of your hands, between your fingers or under your nails
  3. Scrub — to ensure you’re getting your hands as clean as possible, scrub them for at least 20 seconds (how long it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice).
  4. Rinse — using clean, running water, rinse your hands well.
  5. Dry — once you’ve removed all traces of soap from your hands, dry them with a clean towel or air dryer.

If you don’t have soap or clean, running water, using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can also help prevent germs.

Helping You Feel Whole

No matter how good you are at hand-washing, chances are you’ll still get sick occasionally. When you or your loved one needs care, our world-class providers are here and ready to help you return to whole health.

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