Children washing hands
December 20, 2019 | by The Polyclinic

Germs are everywhere. They are within and on our bodies and on every surface we touch. That’s why regular handwashing is one of the best things you can do to protect yourself—and others—from getting sick. Preventing sickness also reduces the amount of antibiotics people are prescribed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), handwashing can prevent about 30% of diarrhea-related sicknesses and about 20% of respiratory infections such as colds. With flu season upon us, it’s even more important to wash your hands frequently throughout the day. Here are some facts to know and pass along about hand hygiene. Cleaning your hands at the right time, the right way counts for everyone!

Wash Your Hands Often, Especially at These Key Times:

  • Before preparing or eating food
  • Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the restroom
  • After changing diapers
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After touching garbage

Speak Up for Clean Hands!

When you visit a clinic, hospital, or other healthcare setting, you are at risk of getting an infection while you are being treated for something else. Patients and their loved ones can play a role in asking and reminding health care providers to clean their hands. Health care providers should clean their hands every time they enter the room and when they remove gloves.

Protect Yourself by Asking Questions

1. Clean your own hands and ask those around you to do the same.
2. Don’t be afraid to use your voice: it’s ok to ask your health care provider questions, such as:

  • “I didn’t see you clean your hands when you came in, would you mind cleaning them before my exam?”
  • “I’m worried about germs spreading in the clinic. Will you please clean your hands before you start my treatment?”

3. Ask your loved ones to clean their hands too:

  • “Would you please wash your hands before dinner?”

Which One? Soap and Water vs. Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer

Washing your hands with soap and water is the preferred method to reduce most types of germs. When soap and water aren’t available and your hands are not visibly dirty, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is acceptable. Sanitizers work well in many situations but don’t get rid of all types of germs. Sanitizers also don’t clean hands effectively if they are visibly dirty, greasy and may not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides.

How should you clean your hands?

With soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with warm water. Use liquid soap if possible. Apply a nickel- or quarter-sized amount of soap to your hands.
  • Rub your hands together until the soap forms a lather and then rub all over the top of your hands, in between your fingers and the area around and under the fingernails.
  • Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Imagine singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under running water.
  • Dry your hands using a paper towel if possible. Then use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and to open the door if needed.

With an Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer:

  • Put product on hands and rub hands together
  • Rub all surfaces until hands feel dry
  • This should take around 20 seconds

Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers Do Not Cause Antibiotic Resistance

  • The antimicrobial activity of alcohols can be attributed to their ability to denature proteins. They kill germs quickly and in a different way than antibiotics.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60%-95% alcohol are most effective at denaturing proteins.
  • There is no chance for the germs to adapt or develop resistance.