St. Rita’s health focus: The right times and the right ways to wash hands

By James Niese - Guest Columnist

With flu season upon us, it is important to remember to always wash one’s hands as often as you can to help stop the spread of germs and other bacteria.

Washing one’s hands are one of the easiest ways to help stop the spread of contagious illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing one’s hands before, during and after preparing food, before eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick and before and after treating a wound.

Furthermore, it is suggested after using the restroom, changing diapers, blowing one’s nose, coughing or sneezing and handling trash. Animals are also significant carriers of bacteria, so utilize proper hand hygiene after touching or feeding animals and removing animal waste.

Now that one knows when to wash one’s hands, there are five simple steps to follow.

• First, wet one’s hands with clean running water, warm, if available. Hot water may dry or crack the skin, allowing entry of germs.

• After wetting one’s hands, lather them with soap, ensuring to get adequate suds on both front and back of one’s hands, between one’s fingers, under one’s fingernails and up to the wrists. It is important to cover as much surface of one’s hands as possible.

• After one obtains sufficient lather, it is time to scrub. Vigorously rub both hands together, causing friction to help lift the germs from the surface of one’s hands. This should be done for at least 20 seconds to ensure proper cleansing. An easy way to track one’s handwashing time is to hum the song “happy birthday” two times while scrubbing one’s hands.

• After scrubbing, the next step is to rinse one’s hands with clean, running water. It is important to rinse thoroughly to remove all germs and excess soap from both hands and wrists area.

• The final step in this process is drying one’s hands. This can be done by using a clean towel, or letting them air dry.

If one is unable to wash one’s hands with clean water, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is another way to clean one’s hands. It is important to remember that alcohol-based hand sanitizers should contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective.

This is only an acceptable alternative if one’s hands are not visibly soiled or greasy. If the hands are visibly soiled, warm soap and water is the preferred method.

When using hand sanitizers, many of the same rules apply to properly clean one’s hands. It is important to use enough hand sanitizer to be able to lather both hands, all fingers and wrists, as one would with soap. After applying the hand sanitizer, vigorously rub one’s hands and fingers together until the hand sanitizer is completely dried from all surfaces of one’s hands and wrists.

Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined that knowing when to wash one’s hands and utilizing the proper washing techniques has great health benefits. With proper hand washing, there is a reduction of diarrhea-related illnesses by 23 to 40 percent, respiratory illnesses by 16 to 21 percent, and it can reduce the absenteeism of schoolchildren from the stomach bugs by 29 to 57 percent.

By James Niese

Guest Columnist

James Niese, APRN CNP, works at Mercy Health-Columbus Grove Family Medicine.

James Niese, APRN CNP, works at Mercy Health-Columbus Grove Family Medicine.

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