We’ve been taught since we were children that we must wash our hands before eating. We definitely have to wash them after using the bathroom or when we’ve touched something dirty. But have you ever thought about what you’re doing when you wash your hands? You’re protecting yourself.
National Handwashing Awareness Week is recognized December 4-10 this year, and National Influenza Vaccination Week is December 6-12. By washing your hands properly and being vaccinated against the flu, you can avoid many seasonal illnesses and keep from spreading them to those you love.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that good handwashing can prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as colds and the flu in the general population by 16% to 21%. In addition, this year’s flu vaccine is reportedly 40% to 60% effective. Being current on your flu, covid vaccines, and boosters can provide even more protection against respiratory illnesses this winter.
Are you washing your hands correctly? You could be overestimating your skills. A USDA study showed people wash their hands incorrectly about 97% of the time, with the most common mistake being not washing for long enough. Another study showed that about 58% of American adults do not always wash their hands with soap after going to the bathroom at home. If you’re in either of these groups, it’s time to start reevaluating your own handwashing practices to prevent getting respiratory diseases.
The CDC offers these five steps to good handwashing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice can help you get to 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel, or air dry them.
The agency also provides the following guidance for key times you should wash your hands. These are times when you are more likely to find or expose others to germs.
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before and after eating food
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead, spreading it on the fronts and backs of your hands and between your fingers and then allowing it to air dry.
By following the simple steps of respiratory disease prevention, such as getting vaccinated and washing your hands properly, you and your loved ones can prevent respiratory diseases this holiday season and beyond. These ways to prevent respiratory diseases can allow you to spend your time with friends and family instead of at home in bed or in the hospital.
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