How Frequent And Proper Handwashing Can Help Beat Cold And Flu Season

By TERESA REYNOLDS
Chief Nursing Officer, LAMC

As fall is upon us, so is flu season – a time of year when between five and 20 percent of people living in the United States suffer from the contagious disease.

This means now is the time to:

  • Get your flu vaccine; and
  • Recommit to good health habits, like frequent and proper handwashing.

The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each and every year. This is especially true for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, and people 65 years and older.

Good health habits also play a significant role in helping prevent the flu. Frequent and proper handwashing is essential.

Follow these simple steps to help ensure you’re washing your hands properly:

  • Remove all jewelry (including your watch) and wet your hands with warm running water.
  • Apply liquid, bar or powder soap and lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds, making certain to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel, or an air dryer.
  • If possible, use your towel to turn off the faucet and open the door as you exit the restroom.
  • When soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, if possible.

And remember that antibacterial soaps should only be used when regular soap and water or alcohol hand rubs aren’t available. They are no more effective at killing germs, and regular use may lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents, making it harder to kill these germs in the future.

According to health guidelines you should always wash your hands before:

  • Preparing food;
  • Eating;
  • Administering medicine/medical treatment;
  • Touching a baby or sick person; or
  • Putting in/taking out contact lenses.  

You should always wash your hands after:

  • Changing a diaper;
  • Blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing into your hands;
  • Preparing food;
  • Touching an animal or its litter box, waste or play toys;
  • Handling garbage;
  • Touching a sick person;
  • Treating wounds; or
  • Whenever they look dirty.

In addition to getting a flu vaccine and ensuring thorough handwashing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these additional good health guidelines:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick, too.
  •  Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. It will help prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.

Practice other good health habits, including getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.

To learn more, talk to your physician or visit cdc.gov/flu.

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