While the weather doesn’t really “look” like winter, I can attest that the germs are all over the place right now.
The Giebler home had two sick kids over the holidays, and yours truly lost a full day of work last week (and then the majority of the weekend) while I fought off an illness. While those germs are out there, one simple, easy, inexpensive, and incredibly effective way of preventing illness is to keep our hands clean!
Washing your hands is something simple we can all do to keep our schools, workplaces, and homes just a little bit healthier. In fact, it’s actually been identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.
But studies have shown often less than one person out of every 20 people wash their hands in a very common situation—after using a public restroom. Gross!

Why hand washing?
Bacterial and viral infections can be spread when the hands come into contact with infectious respiratory secretions and carry them elsewhere. This happens most often as a result of someone coughing, sneezing, shaking hands, or touching an object that has been in the proximity of a sick person and then touching the face—particularly the nose, mouth or eyes. This is one of the primary ways of transmitting the virus that causes the common cold.
Washing your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper is of utmost importance, as the ingestion of even the smallest amount of fecal matter can cause serious illness from deadly pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, giardiasis, and hepatitis A, among others. You also should be particularly careful about washing your hands after touching garbage, handling animals or animal waste, visiting or caring for an ill person, or if your hands show visible dirt.
Those who handle food should routinely wash their hands, not only after using the toilet, but also after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, since the microbes present on uncooked food can cause gastrointestinal infections ranging from mild to severe or even life-threatening.
Perhaps those with the greatest need to wash their hands on a regular basis are healthcare workers. Because they’re constantly exposed to sick patients and patients with weakened immune systems, and since they frequently come into contact with contaminated surfaces, these professionals have a special responsibility. Before the importance of hand washing was widely understood within the healthcare community, millions of people became sick or died from infections passed along on the hands of their caregivers. During the 19th century, up to 25 percent of women died in childbirth from childbed fever (puerperal sepsis), a disease subsequently found to be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. After hand washing was introduced as a standard practice in the delivery room, the rate of death dropped to less than 1 percent.

It all begins with hand awareness
Here are the “4 Principles of Hand Awareness”:
Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating.
Do not cough into your hands.
Do not sneeze into your hands.
Above all, do not put your fingers into your eyes, nose, or mouth.

Wash your hands the right way
To wash your hands properly, you need only two things—soap and clean, running water. If these two things are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has a minimum 60 percent alcohol content. I highly suggest you use soap, however, as those hand sanitizers can cause additional health issues with prolonged and heavy usage.
Before washing your hands, remove all rings and other jewelry. Using running water, wet your hands thoroughly, then apply enough soap to work up a nice lather. Keeping your hands out of the water, rub them together, being sure to scrub both the front and backs of your hands, including your wrists, and also washing between the fingers and under the nails. Do this for 20 seconds, then rinse completely under the running water. Be sure to turn off the taps with a paper towel rather than your bare hand. According to the CDC, the whole process should take about as much time as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

But what about drying?
The Mayo Clinic recently published its own comprehensive review and analysis of every known hand washing-related study produced since 1970. Interestingly, their researchers found that drying hands was a key part of preventing the spread of bacteria. They also concluded that paper towels are better than blowers for this purpose. Here’s some of their reasoning:
Most people prefer paper towels to blowers, so they’re more likely to use them.
Blowers take too long, encouraging people to wipe their newly cleaned hands on dirty pants or to skip the step altogether.
It takes less energy to manufacture a paper towel than it does to dry hands with a blower.
Blowers dry out the skin on your hands.
Blowers scatter bacteria three to six feet from the device.