As we enter November, it often brings with it, cold, cough and flu season. It is this time of year that I am especially aware of the information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases and other public health organizations that my family and I should follow to help prevent illness during the winter months.
The first one I can check off the list, I have had my flu shot. But just as important as a flu vaccine is diligent hand hygiene to decrease the spread of germs, that can make us and others sick. Studies have been conducted on the effects of hand hygiene related to influenza, respiratory and viral infections. A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control and led by Elaine Larson, RN, Ph.D., from the School of Nursing and Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, found that alcohol-based hand sanitizer whether foam, gel or wipes all significantly reduce viruses on hands. 2 Further research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health Allison Aiello, Ph.D. and Larson, concluding hand hygiene interventions are efficacious for reducing gastrointestinal illnesses.3
To learn more about this topic, I asked Jim Arbogast, Ph.D., GOJO scientist about the importance of maintaining a hand hygiene regimen during the winter months.
SW: Jim, when are the critical times to perform hand hygiene?
JA: It’s important to perform hand hygiene throughout the day, both at home and at work. There are many occasions where it can benefit you, such as before you eat, as you’re preparing food. And if you ever deal with anyone who’s sick or injured, that’s a key moment. I like to tell people after you’ve touched something that could be contaminated like the trash, or diapers, or you’ve contaminated yourself when sneezing or coughing, and of course, the one that everyone knows is after you use the bathroom, you should wash or sanitize your hands.
SW: What is a good routine for handwashing and hand sanitizing?
JA: A good routine for proper hand hygiene which is especially important during the winter germ season when you’re more at risk is to wash your hands.The experts recommend washing for at least fifteen to twenty seconds. You’ll hear some people recommend singing the Happy Birthday song a few times or the ABCs all the way through – as you’re doing that it’s really important to cover your whole hand and make sure you use enough friction to get the germs lifted off the skin and down the drain. Now sinks and soap that you trust aren't always available so a great solution in those cases is an alcohol based sanitizer, like PURELL and in that case you will want to use enough to cover your whole hand. Experts recommend having your hands wet for about ten to fifteen seconds when using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
SW: How can we reduce our risk of getting sick?
JA: I’m definitely a believer that hand hygiene is the number one most important way to stop the spread of germs and reduce the odds of getting sick. It’s well proven at hospitals, but I think throughout our daily life, hand hygiene is critical. People forget about it sometimes but it’s really simple and it’s important. It’s all about reducing risk. If you ‘ve got germs on your hands there’s a risk that they can get in your body or get in someone else’s body and make you or them ill. Washing your hands or using an alcohol- based hand sanitizer is going to reduce that risk.
SW: How can businesses promote good hand hygiene?
JA: There are many good solutions around hand hygiene that employers can provide for their employees. Number one I would say is in a bathroom you want to provide a good handwash and I like to see an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer at the door of the bathroom to try to catch that portion of the population that just doesn’t wash their hands. Throughout the building, especially at places where there’s a lot of traffic, such as the elevators, lobbies, cafeterias - you want to provide an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer so they have that option at points where they’re at risk of either getting contaminated or contaminate themselves and again, any sink throughout the building should have a good handwash.
SW: How can parents promote good hand hygiene?
JA: There are many good tips that parents can teach their children around hand hygiene and many of them are the same as they were years ago, especially around handwashing. You want to wash your hands effectively for fifteen to twenty seconds, cover the whole hand, use enough force to rub the germs off your hands and down the drain. The invention of the alcohol-based hand sanitizer gives us a great ability to teach our kids to clean their hands before they eat, after or during a sporting event, when they’re at school contacting a lot of other kids. Alll of these situations are good times to use an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer.
Just by following any of these helpful tips can help you fight off germs this winter season. Remember: when in doubt wash your hands. If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Would you still like some more information, facts and tips? Be sure to check out www.gojo.com/coldandflu or www.purell.com/coldandflu for information and downloadable posters, videos and tools for your organization, facility, school or family.
Here’s to your healthy winter!