24 April 2003
Most of us really donít take the time to consider exactly how important good handwashing is to prevent the spread of infection. Doctors, nurses, and EMS workers can tell you in a hurry just how important it is, but sometimes even these folks, who should know better, canít or donít take the time to wash their hands properly.
Why do you need to follow good handwashing protocol? You have only to look at the spread of SARS and even the common cold to answer that.
Germs are everywhere. You canít see them with the naked eye, so they tend to be forgotten about as we go about our day to day business of living. What we forget, though, is that by going to work, to Wal-Mart, to pick up the kids at day care, we are exposed to literally countless microorganisms.
Try this: Hold the palm of your hand about 2 inches from your mouth, then breathe out of your mouth onto your hand. What did you feel? Probably warm, moist-feeling air coming in contact with the surface of your palm. Now think about the last time you talked on the phone. You held the receiver up to your ear, and the mouthpiece was in front of your mouth. As you spoke to the person at the other end of the line, you exhaled that same warm, moist air directly onto the phone by your mouth. Now think again: Who spoke on the phone last before you? They also exhaled their warm, moist breath onto the phone, and their breath, like yours now, contained millions and millions of germs. Did that person have a cold?
Think about the last time you went to Wal-Mart. Did you go to the rest room there? Did you flush the toilet? How many people who used the same toilet that day ahead of you flushed it as well, all touching the same little handle after urinating, then cleansing themselves (if youíre a woman)?
Are you a parent? When was the last time you helped your toddler wipe his runny nose, then a few days later were sick yourself?
You can certainly see by these examples that germs are quite easily spread, and that handwashing is of utmost importance in helping prevent the spread of sickness. But like a lot of things, there is a right way to do it.
First, begin by pulling off the paper towels youíll need to dry your hands, or having the cloth towel you will use at the ready. Youíll need an extra paper towel or cloth towel to turn off the water when youíre done. They should be close to the sink for easy access. Next, turn on the water. The water should be a tepid temperature; not too hot, and not too cold.
Next, moisten your hands under the running water. Then squeeze out a puddle of soap about the size of a quarter into your palm, or take up the bar and rub it between your hands for about 5 to 10 seconds. Work up a good lather of soapsuds by rubbing your hands together vigorously, working up each wrist as well. Then take the tips of your fingers and scratch your nails against each palm in quick, scratching motion. This helps to loosen and remove dirt under your fingernails.
Now turn your left hand palm down, fingers splayed out. Take the fingers of your right hand and rub firmly between the fingers of your left hand for several seconds. Repeat the process with your right hand.
To rinse, start FROM THE WRIST and allow the water to run from your wrists to your fingers. DO NOT rinse from the fingers or hands TO the wrists. When you do rinse your wrists, this will allow contaminated water to run back down over the hands you have rinsed, recontaminating them and defeating the whole purpose of washing your hands.
After youíve rinsed, pick up the towel(s) and dry your hands thoroughly. Touching your wet hands to the handles of the faucet without the barrier of the towel recontaminates your hands. After drying your hands THOROUGHLY, take the leftover towel and turn off the water faucet. Discard the used towels appropriately; paper in the trash, cloth in the appropriate covered hamper.
Donít forget at this point to get a clean towel to open the door with, if you have to touch the door handle with your hands.
Thatís it! Simple enough, right?
Some other precautions you can take to minimize the spread of germs besides handwashing include using bleach to clean hard surfaces; some people even put a small amount of bleach into the water they wash their dishes in. Donít forget to clean surfaces such as doorknobs, faucet handles, telephone receivers, beds, and dials, computer keyboards, steering wheels...you get the idea.
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