Did you know that 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by touch? Just think about how many surfaces we touch every day. That’s a lot of germs and a lot of infections. It’s been proven that the single most important way to keep from getting and spreading viruses is hand washing. While soap may not kill all viruses, thorough hand washing will certainly decrease your chances of getting an infection.
Ninety-five percent of the population says that they wash their hands after using a public toilet; however, when 8,000 people were monitored across five large cities in the United States, the actual number was found to be more like 67 percent. Bacteria are present over the entire body. But when it comes to our hands, fingernails and the surrounding areas harbor the most microorganisms. Many studies have shown that alcohol rubs are more effective than plain or even antimicrobial soaps, unless the hands are heavily soiled, but we can’t get overconfident with alcohol rubs. Despite its effectiveness against many organisms, alcohols have very poor impact against bacterial spores, protozoan, and certain viruses. In addition, alcohol has no residual effect as some antimicrobial soaps do.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands for at least 15 seconds, but studies show that the reduction of skin bacteria is nearly ten times greater by washing with soap for 30 seconds. Children (and why not adults?) are taught to sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” from start to finish before rinsing. This takes about 15 seconds. If you don’t know the words to “Yankee Doodle,” singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice is another way to make sure that you’ve spent the right amount of times washing your hands.
Many people believe they must use hot water to wash their hands but hot water can increase the chance of dermatitis. Hot or warm water has not been proven to increase the effectiveness of hand washing. Cold water, though not as comfortable, produces less skin damage from detergents, especially with repeated washings.
The outer layer of bacteria found on your hands is potentially the most dangerous for transmitting disease from one person to another. Fortunately, it is also the most easily eliminated by hand washing. The deeper layer consists of bacteria that are more resistant to washing, since they occupy the deeper layers of skin cells.
So, wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands and help prevent the spread of diseases.
Cindy Grovestein, RN
County Nurse Manager
Effingham County Health Department