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Washing your hands to stay healthy

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Jeri Culbertson, RN, BSN, CIC

Washing your hands is one of the best ways you can help keep yourself healthy all year long and keep from spreading germs to other people. Germs can live on surfaces from days to months and can be easily picked up in the community by anyone. This includes skin-to-skin contact or by touching anything that a person carrying germs has touched.

Washing your hands frequently is important, but there are specific times that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that you wash your hands. These times include:

Before, during, and after preparing food

Before eating food

Before and after caring for someone who is sick

Before and after treating a cut or wound

After using the bathroom

After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the bathroom

After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing

After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste

After handling pet food or pet treats

After touching garbage

When washing your hands with soap and water, wet your hands with water that is warm or cool to the touch and then apply soap. Lather your hands by rubbing them together, making sure to get the areas between your fingers, under your nails, and on the backs of your hands. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. Any easy way to make sure that you are rubbing your hands together for the correct amount of time is to sing the “ABCs” song one time or the “Happy Birthday” song two times. Finally, rinse your hands well under the running water and dry your hands by either using a clean towel or letting them air dry.

If soap and water are not readily available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol can clean your hands. These hand sanitizers work by reducing the number of germs on your hands and they do not work as well when your hands are visibly dirty. When using hand sanitizer, apply the product to the palm of one hand. You will need to read the label to know how much to apply. Rub the product all over your hands, just as you would to wash your hands with soap and water. Continue rubbing the product until your hands feel dry.

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Jeri Culbertson, RN, BSN, CIC is the Director of Infection Control at Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. The advice offered in this column is that of the author.