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December 5, 2006 > Avoid the Flu Wash Your Hands!

Avoid the Flu Wash Your Hands!

Hand Washing Awareness Week Gives Everyone a Helping Hand

by Washington Hospital

One of the easiest and most effective ways to prevent infection is proper hand washing. Germs on your hands are a primary way to pass bacteria and viruses from your surroundings to yourself and to other people. National Hand Washing Awareness Week runs from December 5 – 11 to remind everyone of the importance of hand washing and to encourage proper hand washing procedures.

“The most important preventive measure I tell people is to keep their hands off their face,” explains Wendy Kaler, MPH, Infection Control Coordinator at Washington Hospital. “If you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands, you may be allowing a cold or flu virus to enter your body.”

Cold and flu viruses can be spread through droplets in the air (example: when someone with the virus sneezes or coughs), through direct contact (example: shaking hands or kissing someone with the virus) or through indirect contact (example: sharing beverage or objects with someone with the virus.)

“These examples of how viruses easily spread rings especially true during the holiday season,” says Kaler. “During this time of year, people touch a number of items that contain bacteria and viruses such as shopping carts, phones and escalator railings which all spread germs to your hands.”

How long are you washing your hands?

Most people do not wash their hands long enough, or thoroughly enough, to remove the germs from their skin. Proper hand washing should be done with soap, flowing water, and friction (rub hands together) for about 15 seconds. Kaler recommends singing two verses of “Happy Birthday” in your head while washing your hands to get a feeling for how long 15 seconds is. She also says people need to remember to wash all parts of their hands, including the sides of the fingers and the sides of the thumb.

When to Wash Your Hands

Children and adults should wash with plain or antimicrobial soap:

  1. Before touching your eyes, nose or mouth

  2. When hands are visibly dirty

  3. Before you eat and prepare food items

  4. After touching raw meats like chicken or beef

  5. After changing infant or adult diapers

  6. After touching animals and pets

  7. After using the restroom

Alcohol sanitizing gels

If you’re out and about this holiday season and soap and water are not available, alcohol-based sanitizing gels can be a good substitute. You don’t need to use a lot, but be sure to use enough of the product to cover all the surfaces of your hands while you rub it in, just as if you were using soap and water. Tips on how to use alcohol handrubs include:

  1. Do not wipe off alcohol handrubs. Let hands air dry.

  2. It is NOT necessary, or recommended, to routinely wash hands after application of alcohol-based handrubs.

  3. Choose alcohol handrubs containing 60 to 95 percent alcohol, listed as ingredients isopropyl, ethanol or n-propanol.

Another way to help keep your hands clean is to keep your skin in good shape. Using hand lotion a couple of times a day can keep your hands from getting dry or chapped. Bacteria can hide in broken skin and is almost impossible to get out without a scrub brush.

Good hand hygiene is especially important if you are around young children, the elderly or anyone with a compromised immune system. The germs on the gas pump or doorknob you just touched may not be harmful to you, but they could be harmful to those around you. Community members visiting the hospital for any reason can help prevent the spread of infection and other illness by making sure their hands are well washed. Washington Hospital is encouraging good hygiene practices by making hand sanitizer readily available to visitors in waiting rooms and high traffic areas.

For more information about hand washing, and especially how to teach kids about clean hands, visit The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site also offers information about hand hygiene at

Flu season is here, get your flu shot

The flu vaccine is recommended as a way to prevent the flu, especially for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications – such as the elderly and people with lung disease, heart disease, or another chronic illness. Washington Hospital Healthcare System offers flu vaccinations at several locations in the Tri-City area. (See the ad on the opposite page for clinic sites and hours.)
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