Haven’t we always been told ‘wash our hands’

Published 6:33 pm Thursday, August 12, 2021

As children, we were always told to wash our hands.  Handwashing is nothing new. However, in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and other outbreaks of infectious diseases, there is a greater incentive for hand washing.

As we work, go to school, and engage in activities of daily living, we are constantly exposed to substances that can spread infectious diseases.  The number one way to prevent the spread of infection is to simply wash your hands. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initiated “Life is Better with Clean Hands,” a campaign to advocate hand washing as a priority for disease prevention. The goal is to make handwashing a “healthy habit.” The campaign encourages individuals to make handwashing a part of their daily routine and to set an example for children to follow.

Infections can be spread in several ways. The most common way is by touching a contaminated object or surface. Many illnesses, especially respiratory infections, are spread when in contact with the mucous membranes, such as when we blow our noses, cough, sneeze, or touch our eyes and mouths with contaminated hands. When we prepare foods such as raw meats, we come in contact with germs that can cause gastrointestinal infections. Individuals coming in contact with blood or body fluids of others may be exposed to such illnesses as hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Vigilant hand washing is crucial to prevent the spread of infection. The CDC recommends individuals wash their hands before, during, and after preparing food, especially when handling raw meat, vegetables and fruit. Cutting boards must be washed thoroughly with soap and warm water. Of course, we should wash our hands before and after eating, before and after caring for the sick with respiratory infections, vomiting and diarrhea, and before and after treating any wound. Handwashing is especially important after using the toilet. We should wash our hands after changing diapers, touching animals, and handling garbage. We should use a tissue and wash our hands when we blow our noses, cough, or sneeze.

Handwashing is an essential skill in the fight against infection. First, wet your hands thoroughly with warm water. Then apply soap, creating a generous lather. Rub all surfaces of your hands together for at least 20 seconds (the length of time it takes to sing the “Birthday Song”). Rinse the soap from your hands with water and dry with a clean towel or air dry.

When soap and water are not available or practical, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with 60% alcohol. Apply the gel or foam and rub all surfaces of your hands together for about 20 seconds or until your hands are dry. Remember … hand sanitizers are not effective at cleaning hands that are greasy or visibly soiled.

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, use caution by washing your hands or using a hand sanitizer often. Wash before and after touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, touching your mask, entering and leaving a public place, and touching items commonly touched by others. Items such as door handles, shopping carts, touch screens, tables, and gas pumps are easily contaminated by Covid-19.

It is all in your hands. You can do it.  You can prevent the spread of Covid-19 and other infectious diseases. For more information about handwashing and the CDC campaign, visit https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/campaign.html. “Life Is better with Clean Hands.”

Sarah M. Ware, Ph.D., RN, CNE, retired nurse educator and Natchez resident.