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Stay Healthier By Simply Washing Your Hands

Updated on January 4, 2017
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Especially During the "colds and Flu Season"

When it comes to basic personal hygiene, I remember my mother always saying, “Soap and water are cheap.” Of course, when I was a kid, water was cheap. Now, government regulations and other issues regarding municipal water treatment facilities have made water an expensive commodity. But, it’s still cheaper than treating illnesses.

Health officials all agree that one of the surest ways of increasing your chances of staying healthy is to wash your hands. Frequently. How simple is that? Yet, no matter how diligent we are about personal hygiene, most of us don’t wash our hands nearly as frequently as we should.

But First a Word About Antibacterial Soaps

Nowadays, advertisements for antibacterial soaps tout their germ killing capacity. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, antibacterial soaps are no more effective at killing germs than are regular soaps.

And they further caution that the use of antibacterial soaps may produce bacteria that become resistant to the soap’s antibacterial agents, making it harder to kill those bacteria in the future.

Another concern is the effect antibacterial agents have on the beneficial bacteria in septic systems. The Water Resources Center at the University of Minnesota reports that the use of antibacterial or disinfectant products in the home does destroy good and bad bacteria in the treatment system.

They say that using normal amounts of these products will destroy some beneficial bacteria, but that the population will remain sufficient and recover quickly. The problem is in defining “normal amounts.” Hopefully, further studies will be able to define what is excessive.

It seems to me that until environmental officials call for a ban on antibacterial soaps, go ahead and use them if they make you feel like you’re doing something extra. But, apparently, it may be a “placebo kind of thing.”

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You Really Don't Want to Think About It

Want to gross yourself out? Just stop and think for a minute about all the nasty situations you encounter during a normal day. Look around you. You constantly see people with their fingers in places you wouldn’t allow your fingers to be…in their noses and ears, on surfaces you wouldn’t touch, and doing things that give you the creeps.

It often happens that you can’t avoid being a participant in those situations. I owned a small retail store and would cringe every time a customer would lick their fingers to separate money, and then hand the bills to me.

And just think of all the filth you can come in contact with from your everyday activities involving: door knobs, money, bathroom fixtures, ATM machine key pads, handshakes, the tongs at the salad bar, the watercooler, the coffeemaker. I’ll bet you can come up with one or two more. It’s enough to make one paranoid!

The Two-pronged Soap Attack

As you touch people and other "things and stuff" during the day, you can pick up harmful bacteria that can infect you when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

Just think about how you dutifully wash your hands after using a public restroom, only to have to grasp the door handle in order to leave.

Others who grasped that same handle before you may not have washed their hands after seeing to their needs.

In turn, you can infect others when you touch them or their stuff. The germs have got us, coming and going.

How many times have you "come down with something" and blamed it on being around someone when they sneezed or coughed? You could just as easily have picked it up off of a door handle, money or an ATM pinpad.

But, if everyone practiced frequent hand washing, we could greatly reduce the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses, thus increasing the general health of the overall population.


The Definitive, Step-by-step Handwashing Manual

STEP 1. Lather up, scrub the palms and backs of your hands, wrists, and under your nails for 20 seconds.

STEP 2. Dry ‘em. Preferably with a paper towel. When practical, turn off the faucet with the paper towel and also use the paper towel to grasp the doorknob on your way out.

Surgeons must scrub their hands, with a brush, for at least 10 minutes before slicing into our gorgeous bodies.

The experts say 20 seconds is enough for us to greatly reduce the spread of germs that we would be responsible for spreading.

A good way to help small children understand that time element is to have them scrub their hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday To You” twice.

Are you constantly reinforcing the importance of hand washing to your children?

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The Contemporary Cough and Sneeze Protocol

Our parents taught us to cover our mouths and noses with our hands when we sneezed or coughed.

That, of course, just deposits a mother lode of germs on our hands, but I guess back then we were probably thinking more of courtesy than disease prevention.

Somehow it seems that we didn't take germs as seriously as we do now.

Health officials now say that the best way to prevent our germs from infecting others is to cough or sneeze into our elbows. I think the word is getting out.

I know I see more and more people doing that…just before they lick their fingers and hand some poor cashier their money.

Do You Lick Your Fingers To Separate Money or Pages, Etc?

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Now a Word About Hand Sanitizers

Health officials seem to be united in their position that alcohol based hand sanitizers are second-best, especially if your hands are visibly dirty. And, while able to quickly reduce the number of germs on hands, sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs. When buying hand sanitizers; choose brands that contain at least 60% alcohol.

Of course, alcohol isn’t really kind to our skin. Its drying effect, especially during the winter when the air is already very dry, contributes to painful dry, chafed skin that splits and cracks. The frequent use of lotions and creams will help keep skin supple, and you might ask your doctor if a fish oil supplement would help your dry skin.

Health organizations such as the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offer a laundry list of actions that result in the need for hand washing; and a thinking person can come up with a gazillion more.

Just about everything we touch is germ-laden. Our day-to-day activities that require a hand washing follow-up could turn the procedure into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fortunately, our immune system protects us against most bacterial and viral invaders.

However, the immune system occasionally can’t handle the onslaught and we do get sick. But, as long as we make frequent hand washing a regular routine, we stand a much better chance against the germs we constantly encounter.

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    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 4 years ago from Nashville Tn.

      Amen to hand washing frequently! I'm a believer. Last year I caught every bug in Nashville and rarely washed my hands. This year I've turned into an OCD nut case because I wash my hands as I sing to the strains of Happy Birthday 2 times all day long. Students and family members have been sick and oh joy, I stay well.

      I also, use the marvelous Kleenex hand towels instead of regular towels throughout the house. And I often spray things like door knobs, light switches, piano keys, toilet and fixtures and such. I keep my counters and eating areas germ free. Whew! It's a full time job but worth it. Thanks and voting all the votes plus sharing!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Audrey, nice to see you again. I just left our discussion on music and animals.

      I wash my hands frequently, but probably not as much as I should. My hands take a real beating in the winter.

      I generally only get one cold a year, maybe two some years, but am otherwise pretty healthy for an old guy. I attribute a lot of that to the handwashing.

      I'm married to a nurse, so I get yelled at a lot...like when I don't wash cutting boards and utensils with ammonia after using them on raw meat. Now I do, even when she's not home...she's got me so paranoid!

      A lot is being made of the importance of simple hand washing...by health practitioners, teachers, vets...a lot of professionals who deal with the public. The general public would do well to take heed.

      Thanks for stopping by and voting. Regards, Bob

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 4 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Very inspiring hub. Thanks to remind us about a little thing that give us big impact if we don't want to do this. I also remind my students about this. I learn many things from you. Voted up!

      Prasetio

    • Madison22 profile image

      Madison 4 years ago from NYC

      Wow, thank you for a very informative post. I am big on hand washing and sanitizer for me and my family.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello Prasetio, it's nice to meet you. I don't have to tell you that schools are places where a lot of bacteria and viruses are passed around. Colds spread through classrooms like wildfire!

      I think it would be helpful if primary schools stressed the importance of hand washing, starting with first graders, and gave children ample opportunity to wash up...or at least always have hand sanitizer available.

      Thank you for stopping by, commenting and voting. Regards, Bob

      Hello Madison, nice to see you. Your comment makes me think of my wife. She carries a little trial size bottle of hand sanitizer in her purse.

      I appreciate that she does, because it comes in handy when we stop someplace for a bite to eat, or for those occasions when you come in contact with some unseen substance on a surface you touch. Eeew!

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 4 years ago from Me to You

      I hate to throw a wet blanket over the proceedings, but we need to step back and get real. It seems to me the problem is that things are being kept 'too clean'. It is a well-known fact that children who grow up playing in the dirt regularly, build up an immunity to all kinds of bacteria, and are far less likely to become sick.

      Maintaining a truly healthy diet and exercising regularly, goes a long way towards fighting off bacteria and such.

      While it's always a good idea to wash your hands if you've come in contact with something, especially mild chemicals; too frequent washing destroys any beneficial bacteria, leaving you vulnerable. You just can't win. So just relax, and use common sense.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hello timorous, thanks for stopping by. No wet blanket perceived, and you raise some good debating points.

      As a layman I'd suspect that maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen probably supports the immune system, which protects us from a lot of the bacteria and viruses we contract. A medical professional may or may not concur.

      I think your last paragraph gives us a bone to pick, though. I personally can't wrap my mind around too much hand washing killing any beneficial bacteria and leaving us vulnerable. There's just too much contrary evidence.

      First of all, look at how frequently staff at hospitals and medical practices wash their hands. I saw my doctor for a routine check a few weeks ago.

      He washed his hands upon entering the exam room, after he listened to my heart and lungs and did some pressing and probing, after typing notes into the electronic records device, and upon leaving the exam room.

      A vet tech was complaining about her chapped and split hands, so I made a comment blaming frequent hand washing and she said, "But that's how we stay healthy."

      When you think about all the crap we come in contact with during the course of our daily lives, we get sick from it relatively infrequently. We've all experienced situations where we touched or even handled something skeevy, weren't able to wash up, and nothing happened; so perhaps the paranoia surrounding touching stuff is a little over the top.

      I do somewhat agree with your closing sentence, though. Relax, and use some common sense....but I'd add, "after you've washed your hands first." :) Thanks for dropping by and commenting. Regards, Bob

    • Highland Terrier profile image

      Highland Terrier 4 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      I am of the opinion that we are getting crazy with this hygiene stuff, really is it all that bad that someone wets their fingers before handing you money or picks their nose or scratches their ear or touches the cake or salad tongs before you,

      Keep it up and all these companies selling us this excess hygiene fears and we will end up with immune systems that will never know a bug when it hits town.

      Commom sense is all that is required and good nourishing food.

      Try this, drop a biscuit on the floor, then pick it up and eat it, I guarantee you won't die.

    • timorous profile image

      timorous 4 years ago from Me to You

      Hey Highland Terrier...I'm with you. The one exception would be washing your hands after doing your business in the bathroom. Very important. Otherwise, just use common sense.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 4 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi Highland Terrier and timorous...thanks for stopping by (and again, for you timorous). I think you guys have too dismissive a position on this...but you are still upright and taking nourishment, so there's something to be said for that.

      I must plead guilty to dropping something on the floor, wiping it on my pantleg, and eating it anyway. You won't catch me tossing an M&M in the wastebasket just because it fell on the floor!

      I'd only do that in my own home, though...never at a restaurant or some other public place. As I said in my first response to timorous, we've all been in situations where we couldn't wash up and lived to tell the tale. I'll still wash my hands a lot, though. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Regards, Bob

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Great hub and especially relevant this time of year. I'm amazed how some people are so freaked out about germs that they can't stand to get their hands dirty at all while others (like you mention) just lick their fingers that have touched money, door handles, etc. I'm glad you got the Hug of the Day. Otherwise I may not have found you.

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 3 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting, FlourishAnyway. I'm bowled over by the Hug Of The Day recognition. That's a lot more meaningful to me than any accolade HP could confer!

      I'm not as strict about sanitation as my wife is (she's a nurse), but I'm stricter than the average person, I think. I do wash my hands frequently, though. It's tough keeping the skin supple this time of year, and the frequent washings don't help that, but I believe they keep me healthy. Thanks, again, for taking the time to comment. Regards, Bob

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 2 years ago

      Hi Bob - Hand washing is most important for those who are immune compromised, as well. I wrote extensively about how to wash hands and the spread of disease a number of years ago during the 2009 H1N1 Influenza outbreak. More schools are having hand washing campaigns; and you will see signs in restaurants where contagious disease and E-Coli are prevalent. Great Hub. Blessings, Debby

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Nice to see you, Debby. Thanks for validating the hub. As you can see, a lot of folks simply don't associate frequent hand washing with good health.

      There's a fair amount of empirical evidence to the contrary. How many times have we handled or touched something like door knobs and not gotten sick?

      But, how many fewer colds and episodes of GI distress would we have experienced if we had washed our hands more? Sort of like "the chicken or the egg" conundrum, huh? Good to have you drop by.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      yes, washing hands is essential after come back from school, from shopping mall, from toilet, because my boy got mouth foot hand disease two yearsago.,

    • Bob Bamberg profile image
      Author

      Bob Bamberg 2 years ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      It's amazing how many germs we can pick up...not only on surfaces...but those that are airborne also. I wonder how much difference it would make if everyone practiced frequent hand washing and not just when the hands look dirty. Nice to see you, peachpurple, thanks for stopping by.

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