The Art of Hand Washing

It sounds simple enough: wash your hands frequently to help prevent infection from colds and flu as well as food-borne illness, such as salmonella and E. coli infection.

Yet many people don’t do it. In fact, although 90 per cent of Canadians know that washing hands regularly is the most effective way to protect against getting sick, only about 37 per cent of Canadian parents have their children wash their hands before eating, according to Health and Hygiene Council Canada (HHCC). This compares with 80 per cent of parents in Malaysia, 79 per cent in India and 76 per cent in Italy who reported their children washed their hands before meals.

Good hygiene is also important in the prevention of diseases such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infections. It also helps to reduce risk of hospital infections and the spread of drug-resistant superbugs. (Read Super-resistant superbugs )

Hand washing: A simple way to prevent infection

Proper hand washing techniques are key to preventing infection. It’s best to wash your hands with soap and water or to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. (For the latter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend choosing products that contain at least 60 per cent alcohol.)

What about antibacterial soaps? While increasingly popular in recent years, these soaps are no more effective at killing germs than regular soap and water, experts say. And using these soaps could lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the products’ antimicrobial agents — making it even harder to kill these germs in the future.

The basics of hand washing

The Mayo Clinic gives these instructions for washing with soap and water :

— Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Lather well.

— Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 seconds.

— Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.

— Rinse well.

— Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.

— Use a towel to turn off the faucet.

To use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

— Apply about 1/2 tsp of the product to the palm of your hand.

— Rub your hands together, covering all surfaces of your hands, until they’re dry.

If your hands are visibly dirty, however, wash with soap and water rather than a sanitizer.

When to wash your hands

It is especially important to sanitize your hands after being in crowded public places such as the subway or bus, and also after handling pets. And always wash your hands before eating, taking medication or putting on contact lenses.

It is also important to wash your hands:

— After using the toilet or changing a diaper. (Tip : Wash the diaper-wearer’s hands, too.)

— Before and after preparing food, especially when handling raw meat, poultry or fish.

— After blowing your nose and coughing or sneezing into your hands

— Before and after treating wounds or cuts and touching a sick or injured person.

— After handling garbage.

And remember: germs love wet surfaces, so keep all surfaces at home and in the office as clean and dry as possible.

Sources: The Mayo Clinic; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Health and Hygiene Council Canada.


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