The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has long held that improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
We see good hand hygiene in action and use it ourselves whenever we have a doctor's appointment or donate blood, when we cook and eat our meals, when we send our kids to school—and when we receive the coronavirus vaccine.
Knowing that hand washing can help stop the spread of coronavirus makes it more important than ever—especially as we head into flu season.
When to Wash
How often should you wash your hands? Here are the CDC’s guidelines:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating food
- Before and after caring for someone 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
How to Wash
What is the correct way to wash? The CDC recommends:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold). Turn off the tap and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap.
- Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, the CDC advises using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol.
The Cost of Poor Hygiene
Even outside of potentially spreading coronavirus and flu, rushed handwashing can lead to cross-contamination of food and other surfaces, and that can lead to food-borne illness.
Food-borne illnesses affect 48 million people in the U.S. each year. More than 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 die from them.
“We all need to pay more attention to hand washing,” said Chandler Jenkins, R.N., a Carilion Children's nurse with a background in Employee Health. “By washing your hands thoroughly, you can prevent the transfer of germs from food like raw chicken and beef to other foods.”
Less Than a Minute
Hand washing is especially important during cold and flu season.
And it takes so little time. In less than a minute, you could keep yourself, or someone you love, from getting sick.
This article was reviewed and approved by Carilion Clinic Employee Health.