The North Bend Eagle


Washing hands simple, but are you doing it right?

by Corrine Giggee, PA-C
Published 3/18/20

It is hard to keep up with the amount of information that is floating around. The COVID-19 situation is ever changing, and not all information or sources are reliable. One thing that is a certain, hand-washing is essential.

The single most important piece of advice health experts can give to help us stay safe from COVID-19 is this: Wash. Your. Hands.

Hand-washing is something your parents tried to instill when you were young. Now with hand sanitizers, sometimes we can get lazy. But are the hand sanitizers good enough? Are they better than soap?
Hand-washing can be your best weapon against germs. We can’t control what we touch or know who else has touched it. The new coronavirus can stay in the air for several hours and on hard surfaces like metal or plastic for several days. To clean surfaces you can use a disinfectant that contains 62-71% alcohol or 0.5% hydrogen peroxide.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that are encased in a layer of fat. Soap can break that fat apart and make the virus unable to infect you. The mechanical act of rubbing your hands together can also help pry germs off your hands and rinse them away.

Sounds simple, Right?

According to a study at Michigan State University in 2013, then found that only 5% of people used proper hand washing technique. One in four people just wet their hands with no soap. One in 10 did not even attempt to wash after going to the bathroom!

With this new concern, let’s refresh ourselves in proper technique.

1. Turn on the water. Hot or cold does not matter.

2. Lather up.

Liquid or gel soap has been found to be better than foam. A study in 2017 at Rutgers University found foam soaps did not significantly reduces the bacteria on the hands, while liquid soap did. Researchers attribute this to the fact that foam washes off more quickly than gel soap. Bar soap has its own problems in the fact that if it stays wet bacteria can stay on the bar.

HOWEVER, use what you have. If all you have foam soap, use it. If all you have is bar soap, rinse it off first if the bar looks slimy. If you are in a public restroom and there is no soap at all, studies show that scrubbing your hands with water only will reduce the bacteria by 25% (compared to 92% with soap and water), which is better than nothing.

3. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds.

This could be singing “Happy Birthday” twice, or the ABC’s once. Or anything that keeps you going for 20 seconds. Pay attention to areas on your hands that you might not think of. The back of the hands and lower palms are often missed. Also scrub around your fingernails.

4. Dry your hands.

Rubbing your hands on a paper towel removes even more germs. Dry hands are also less likely to spread contamination.

You also need to think about when you wash your hands.

Before and after: making food; helping someone who is sick. Before eating. After: going to the bathroom; changing diapers; blowing nose; coughing; sneezing; touching pets; touching garbage.

Finally—hand sanitizers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that soap and water are more effective than hand sanitizers at removing certain kinds of germs. But it may not work well for many types of germs.

If all you have is hand sanitizer, make sure you use enough to cover all surfaces and it is at least 62% alcohol. Rub until your hands feel dry, which should be at least 20 seconds. Hand sanitizers may help between hand washes, but they should not be the only technique used.

Bottom line from the CDC, stay home if you are sick. Cover your coughs and sneezes and wear a facemask if you are ill and around other people. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. And wash, wash, wash your hands. And do it right. We need to work together and do whatever we can to stop the spread of this virus and others.

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