Washing Your Hands of Germs and Viruses

It’s cold and flu season and, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the single most important thing we can do to keep from getting sick and spreading illness to others is to clean our hands. As you touch people, surfaces, and objects throughout the day, you accumulate germs on your hands. In turn, you can infect yourself with these germs by touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Although it’s impossible to keep your hands germ-free, washing your hands frequently helps limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

According to CDC research, some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes up to two hours or more on surfaces like cafeteria tables, doorknobs, ATM machines, and desks. Additionally:

  • 52.2 million cases of the common cold affect Americans under the age of 17 each year alone…and many of these germs are passed to adults and others.
  • Nearly 22 million school days are lost due to the common cold alone.
  • Students don’t wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle and high school students washed their hands after using the bathroom, and numerous studies measuring adult hand-washing habits show similar patterns.
  • A study of Detroit school children showed that scheduled hand washing, at least four times a day, can reduce gastrointestinal illness and related absences by more than 50 percent.

While many of these measurements document hand-washing habits in young adults and children, the findings are applicable to older adults, as well, and especially important for seniors who may lack capacity to fight germs and infections as readily as youth and younger adults.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which don’t require water, are an excellent alternative to soap and water. If you choose to use a commercially prepared hand sanitizer, make sure the product contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

As a general rule, always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food
  • Eating
  • Treating wounds or giving medicine
  • Touching a sick or injured person
  • Inserting or removing contact lenses

Likewise, always wash your hands after:

  • Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
  • Using the toilet
  • Changing a diaper
  • Touching an animal or animal toys, leashes or waste
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands or a tissue
  • Treating wounds
  • Touching a sick or injured person
  • Handling garbage or something that could be contaminated, such as a cleaning cloth or soiled shoes.

Of course, it’s also important to wash your hands whenever they look dirty, but as you can’t see germs, err to the side of caution and help prevent illnesses from ever taking hold.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!