“Did you wash your hands?”
We heard it all the time as kids (and often fibbed), and if you work in healthcare it’s a near-constant reminder thanks to posters and other reminders. Of course, none of that is a bad thing — good hand hygiene goes a very long way toward avoiding illness, as well as passing infections along.
That’s why National Handwashing Awareness Week, which rolls around during the first full week of December every year, is a worthy event to celebrate. Thanks to cheerful mascot Henry the Hand, there are lots of great materials for kids to enjoy, as well as those for adults to remind everyone about handwashing.
OK, to the facts. Here are the Principles of Hand Hygiene endorsed by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Family Physicians:
- Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating;
- Do not cough into your hands;
- Do not sneeze into your hands;
- Above all, do not put your hands into your eyes, ears, and mouth.
And why is this so important? Here comes the icky part. When we cough into the open air, or into our hands, some 3,000 droplets are forced out the body at around 50 miles per hour, according to InsideScience, a news site supported by the American Institute of Physics. Sneezing is even more impressive: 40,000 droplets blast out of us at 200 miles per hour.
The big deal here is that while some of these droplets are big enough to float to the floor or another surface, others are quite small. Those hang around and can be moved out further by air movement such as making a hospital bed, or opening a door.
Even if you shield your mouth and nose for coughing and sneezing with the vampire move, you’re still putting all those droplets out into the air. So, to break the chain of infection, wash those hands!
The Centers for Disease Control tells us that washing with soap and water is the best way to lower the number of microbes on the hands. No water? Use a hand sanitizers with at last 60% alcohol.
And of course, there’s a technique! If you’re using hand sanitizer, apply enough to remain on the hands for 20-30 seconds. For soap and water, the whole process should take 40 seconds to a minute.
When we’re in a hurry, it’s easy to let the little things slide. But if less than a minute can help improve our own health, not to mention that of everyone around us, it’s worth taking the time to slow down and keep those hands clean.