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December 2, 2009 > Don't Want to Get Sick?

Don't Want to Get Sick?

Effective Handwashing Is a Great Way to Avoid Infection, Illness

Nobody wants to get sick, particularly during flu season. And with the presence of a new influenza virus, H1N1 - sometimes called "swine flu" - there's even more reason to stay healthy. So what happens if you're healthy - and want to stay that way? It's time to look to your hands, according to Washington Hospital's Infection Control Program Coordinator, Mary Bowron, R.N.

National Handwashing Awareness Week is observed this year from Dec. 6-12, and it's a great opportunity to evaluate your hand washing practices, making sure they are as effective as possible.

"Hand washing is the number one most effective means of preventing the spread of infectious disease," Bowron states. "Regular hand washing represents the best known and cheapest way of preventing the spread of disease."

One of Bowron's roles in the hospital is to educate new employees about effective hand washing etiquette.

"This has to be one of my biggest pushes as an infection control preventionist," she says. "During hospital orientation, the first thing we do is teach proper hand washing since it represents the backbone of infection control."

But proper hand washing techniques are just as important for the general population, according to Bowron.

"People in the community often don't realize the extent of germs on their hands," she points out.

By following recommended hand hygiene guidelines, you can help keep your family and community healthier this year by reducing the spread of germs.

* Apply an alcohol-based sanitizer, create friction for 15 seconds or until alcohol is dried, again making sure to rub all surfaces of each hand.
If your hands are visibly soiled:
* Wash them with warm water and soap, making sure to get each part of the hand (palms, back of hands, under fingernails, webbing between the fingers, etc.) all the way up to the wrists for 15 seconds.
* After rinsing your hands, dry them with a paper towel and shut off the water with a paper towel.


Hand Sanitizer is Effective

Bowron says that when used correctly, hand sanitizer is just as effective as washing with soap and water unless your hands are visibly soiled. For hand sanitizers to work, hands need to be free of visible dirt and you must also use the enough of the hand gel to get protection. It's recommended you squirt an amount of gel about the size of a dime into your hands. Then rub vigorously so all sides of your hands get wet. Rub hands together until they are dry.

Just as important as how to effectively wash your hands is when to wash them, Bowron says.

To reduce the possibility of spreading germs to the mucus membrane of your eyes, nose and mouth, it is important to wash your hands:
* Before and after eating
* Before and after using the restroom
* Before and after direct contact with other people
* After sneezing or coughing

"Keep your hands off your face, because that is one of the most common ways infections can be transmitted - by touching your face after contact with someone who is sick," Bowron says.

Another important way of reducing the spread of infection, she says, is to follow proper respiratory etiquette. So what does that mean?

"One of the things we're trying to teach people is to cough into your elbow to keep your hands clean," she explains. "We're especially trying to emphasize this lesson with kids: 'Cover your cough or sneeze with your elbow, not your hands'."
Good respiratory etiquette also includes using tissues to contain mouth or nose secretions and disposing of the soiled tissue in a proper waste receptacle.

H1N1 has been a hot button topic in the news, Bowron says, and as a result many places in the community, such as schools and workplaces, are supplying hand sanitizers - making it easier to keep your hands clean even when you don't have access to soap and water.

"Wash your hands frequently," she says, pointing out that, "You can never wash
your hands too much."


Clean hands, healthier you

For more information about hand washing, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web page at www.cdc.gov/Features/HandWashing/.

To get the latest information about H1N1 in your community, visit Washington Hospital's Web site at www.whhs.com and click on the "Latest News On H1N1 virus."


Quick Tips From Henry the Hand

1. Wash your hands when they are dirty or before eating.
2. Do not cough into your hands.
3. Do not sneeze into your hands.
4. Do not put your finger in your eyes, nose or mouth.

To learn more about good hand hygiene principles for adults and children, visit www.henrythehand.com.

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