Fight germs with clean hands

12/6/2013, 6 a.m.

With all the handshaking and hugging that come with major year-end celebrations, public health officials are urging everyone to keep those hands clean for a healthier holiday season.

All that contact can spread bacteria and viruses in addition to holiday cheer. There is a simple solution: Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

National Handwashing Awareness Week, which is observed through Dec. 7, is a great time to think about keeping your hands clean as an easy and important way to stay healthy, the Georgia Department of Public Health says.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent illness and stop the spread of germs, such as those that cause the flu, bronchitis, tonsillitis, conjunctivitis, pneumonia or the common cold.

Dr. Will Sawyer, a family physician and infection control specialist in Cincinnati, has been an advocate of proper hand hygiene for the past 20 years.

He is also creator of Henry the Hand, the “Champion Handwasher” mascot who advocates for Sawyer’s four principles of hand awareness: Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating; do not cough into your hands; do not sneeze into your hands; and do not put your fingers in your eyes, nose or mouth, an area Sawyer has dubbed the “T zone.”

Following these principles is a reliable way to protect the body during cold and flu season, Sawyer said.

“Remember the only portals of entry into your body are your eyes, nose and mouth,” Sawyer says in a video on www.henrythehand.com. “Prevention is in your hands.”

Hands also should be cleaned before, during and after food preparation; before and after caring for a sick person or treating a wound; after using the toilet or changing diapers; and after touching animals, animal waste, pet food and garbage.

It’s not only important to wash your hands, but to do it the right way. The CDC offers these tips:

  • Use cold or warm running water and rub all surfaces of your hands with soap.
  • Keep it up for 20 seconds, or about the length of time it takes to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Then rinse.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or air-dry them.
  • Using soap and water is the best way to wash your hands, but if you can’t, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol.