Hand Hygiene Is More Important Than You Think

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
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Did you know that most of the time, it's your own hands that make you sick?

Germs on your hands cause most contagious illnesses. Your hands can pick up germs from coughing and sneezing onto them, from touching other persons' unclean hands, and from surfaces or substances that have disease-causing germs. Even when they look clean, contaminated hands that touch your eyes, nose or mouth, or any broken skin, allow germs to enter your body, according to public health officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH).

"Most respiratory illnesses such as colds and influenza (flu), gastrointestinal illnesses such as diarrhea, and skin infections such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are spread by unclean hands. Germs multiply quickly on your skin and hands, so cleaning your hands well and often is important," said OSDH Acute Disease Service Epidemiologist Becky Coffman.

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Hand hygiene includes hand washing and hand sanitizing. Washing hands with soap and water helps physically remove germs, and is the only way to clean hands that are visibly soiled. First, wet your hands with warm water, then use liquid or clean bar soap to work up a lather. Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 15 to 20 seconds to dislodge and remove germs. Remember to scrub your nail area, thumbs, wrists and back of hands because these areas are often neglected. Finish by rinsing your hands well, then drying with a clean towel. In public areas, protect yourself from contamination after washing your hands by using the paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the door.

Hand sanitizing occurs when hands are visibly clean but can be decontaminated by using an alcohol-based hand product such as a gel or foam. Check the label to be sure the product contains between 60 and 95 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand products only work on hands that appear to be clean because they cannot remove debris. Use enough of the product to thoroughly moisten your hands, and then rub the product in until your hands are dry. Hand sanitizers are fast and convenient.

OSDH public health officials remind everyone about these simple and inexpensive disease prevention techniques. Prevent the spread of infectious diseases by remembering to wash your hands:

· Before, during and after you prepare food
· Before you eat
· Before you touch your eyes, nose or mouth
· Before you insert or remove contact lenses
· Before and after using sports/fitness equipment
· Before and after treating a cut or wound
· After you blow your nose
· After you cough or sneeze into your hands
· After you use the bathroom or change a diaper
· After handling uncooked foods, especially meat, poultry or fish
· After handling animals or animal waste
· After you handle garbage or dirty laundry
· More often when someone in your home is sick
· Whenever your hands are dirty

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