Wash your hands!
Health Extra, August 2001, The Cleveland Clinic
The TV character played by comedian Jerry Seinfeld was notoriously fastidious. In one episode, he was horrified at the thought of eating a restaurant pizza after he saw the pizza cook breeze out of the rest room without washing his hands. Was Seinfeld being neurotic? Not at all. Serious diseases like salmonella and Hepatitis A can be spread by fecal-oral transmission. Even the tiniest particles of fecal material can spread these bacteria. Other diseases are spread by the residue of saliva and mucous.
Fortunately, hand washing can usually get rid of these substances and their hitchhiking bacteria. In fact, hand washing is one of the most powerful of all weapons against infectious disease. Washing your hands can destroy millions of bacteria with a whoosh of the faucet. But do you know the correct way to wash your hands?
According to the National Consumers League, one out of four visits to the doctor's office is a result of an infectious disease, such as a cold, the flu or food poisoning, usually caused by the kind of germs that common hand washing eliminates.
Infectious disease specialists have investigated the process of hand washing in microscopic detail. Recently, Janet M. Serkey, RN, and Gerri S. Hall, Ph.D., of The Cleveland Clinic, reviewed what is known about hand washing and its value in the health care setting in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Some of what they found will be of value to you as well.
To begin with, what's the correct procedure for washing your hands? Here are the guidelines from the Association for Practitioners in Infection Control (APIC):
The purpose of washing the hands is to remove possible harmful bacteria from the skin. Soap and water are suitable for removing surface bacteria in everyday settings. But no amount of washing is effective if you are wearing rings or artificial nails. These impede the removal of bacterial and serve as breeding grounds for microorganisms. Even natural nails that are overly long can harbor stubborn colonies of bacteria.
In a laboratory study of 100 health care workers divided into two groups (those wearing rings and those not wearing rings), the mean total skin bacterial colony counts for the workers with rings were higher both before and after the hand washing. There is evidence that artificial or long fingernails may have been responsible for a disease outbreak at a hospital some years back.
Here is more information about hand washing from other sources.
Since habits are acquired early, it is important that children get into the hand washing habit. Supervise them. Nag them. You'll be glad you did.
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