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“Wash your hands!” How many times have you heard that from your parents? When you were younger, you might have thought that they were just nagging you, but it is actually one of the most important things you can do to keep from getting sick. It is easy for germs on your hands to end up in your mouth. Germs stick to your hands like gum sticks to the bottoms of your shoes. Did you know that 80% of all infectious diseases are transmitted by touch? Except for getting a vaccination, the single most important thing you can do to prevent getting the flu is to wash your hands. While soap may not kill all viruses, hand washing will significantly decrease the risk of spreading infections. You are at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands. Rule of thumb: if you are around a lot of people, keep your hands off your face until you have time to wash them. Does this sound like something else your parents used to tell you?

Did you know there are two layers of bacteria on your skin? The outer layer of bacteria found on your hands is termed “Transient Flora”. This layer is potentially the most dangerous for transmitting disease from one person to another. Fortunately, it is also the most easily eliminated by hand washing. The deeper layer is called “Resident Flora”. This bacterial population is more likely to be made up of safe bacteria that make up our normal skin flora. This bacteria is more resistant to washing and helps keep the bad bacteria from taking a greater hold on the skin’s surface.

Money, both paper and coins, is a common source of bad bacteria. Money picks up germs because many people who don’t wash their hands handle money. If you handle money routinely and you lick your fingers to count the money, you’ve just incorporated someone else’s germs into your body. Don’t lick your fingers to count bills and wash your hands as often as you can.

Even though 95% of the population says that they wash their hands after using a public toilet, when 8,000 people were monitored across five large cities in the US, they found the actual number to be closer to 67%.

The CDC recommends washing your hands for at least 15 seconds. However, recent studies have show that the reduction of skin bacteria is nearly ten times greater if you wash your hands for at least 30 seconds. Use warm water as hot water can increase the chance of dermatitis and has not been proven to increase the effectiveness of hand washing. To prevent chapping or dry skin, pat rather than rub hands dry, and apply a moisturizing lotion liberally afterward.

It is known that hands, fingernails and the surrounding areas harbor the most microorganisms. Several studies have shown that alcohol rubs are more effective than plain or even anti-microbial soaps, unless the hands are heavily soiled. However, despite its effectiveness against many organisms, alcohol rubs have very poor activity against certain organisms including bacterial spores and certain viruses. In addition, alcohol does not have a persistent anti-microbial effect that some anti-microbial soaps do.

If you’re around someone who has a cold or the flu and you touch an object that was handled by that person, you’ve picked up his or her germs. In public restrooms, consider using a paper towel to flush the toilet and open the door because toilet and door handles harbor germs. Throw the towel away after you leave.

When there is no soap or water available, waterless hand soaps or scrubs are a good alternative. They’re usually available as a liquid, wipes, or towelettes, and often come in small travel sizes that are perfect for keeping in your book bag, car, locker, purse, or sports bag.

So remember to wash your hands and not touch your face as this will markedly decrease the risk of you developing or spreading germs that may cause disease. With all types of antibiotics and modern technology that has developed since we were children, our parent’s recommendations were probably the best medication for us!