According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.
“Handwashing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent illness,” said Sue Niebuhr, RN, coordinator of Trinity Health’s Infection Prevention and Control department. “Not only is it important for your health and protection, but for the protection of the people around you.”
The North Dakota Department of Health recommends handwashing at the following times:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
Pneumonia, colds, and flu are the most common illnesses a person can get if they don’t practice proper hand hygiene, Sue said, adding that 80 percent of communicable diseases are transferred by touch, hence the importance of handwashing. “Most bacteria on our hands are on our fingertips and under our nails.”
She also suggested that illness can be prevented if you “avoid touching the t-zone on your face with unclean hands.” The t-zone includes the eyes, nose, and mouth.
For proper handwashing, wet your hands, apply soap, and scrub your hands (including nails) up to the wrists for 20 seconds before rinsing. “That whole process should take 45 seconds to one minute, from start to finish,” Sue said, suggesting that singing “Happy Birthday” twice would help keep track of the time.
In between soap and handwashing, she also suggested escalating hand hygiene with the use of alcohol-based hand rubs as an added layer of protection.
“You apply the product, rub your hands together, making sure all surfaces – all over the hands up to the wrist, including the nails – are wet, and rub your hands together until it’s dry,” she said.
Mayo Clinic recommends the hand rub contain at least 60 percent alcohol.