It’s flu season in Grass Valley. People who had this year’s flu shot are getting sick. I am washing my hands as if my life depended on it. Despite a flu shot, I had the flu last year. It was horrible, and the reality is, that my life does depend on good hand washing.
The benefits of hand washing are well-documented. Done properly, hand washing reduces the transmission of microscopic pathogens (disease-producing particles, such as viruses and bacteria). This is particularly true for pathogens which may be passed by direct contact or by a fecal-oral route. Hand washing does not completely protect us from catching colds and some other viruses because cold viruses are airborne. Sneezing, coughing, and spitting will propel the virus into the air and if we are in harm’s way, then we are at risk. However, hand washing provides some protection, because there are many opportunities to come into contact with viruses. For instance, using the ATM key pad or shaking hands with someone who just coughed may put you in contact with a pathogen.
Hand washing is much like flossing our teeth; we know it is good for us, but many of us don’t practice it as diligently as we should—or at all. I can tell you how to do it, but I think the experts are better resources than I am. Let’s start with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Want the simple graphics version? Here is what the World Health Organization (WHO) has to say on hand washing.
At the risk of sounding like the obsessive-compulsive private investigator on Monk, when I am around children I increase my hand washing, particularly if they are showing symptoms of an illness. I also wash my hands more when travelling, before putting in contact lens, after handling money, visiting people in hospitals, going to the doctor’s, or if I’ve done a lot of hand shaking.
One issue that bothers people about hand washing is that it dries out the skin. Keep hand cream near your sink so you can apply this immediately after washing your hands. A scent-free cream or lotion is more suitable for both men and women or those bothered by perfumes.
In these high-tech times, it is reassuring to know that we have power over our health. That power is in our own hands. Hand washing is cheap, simple and easy to practice—all we have to do is do it.