Whether at work, home, or performing our favorite activities, the most commonly used tool is the human hand. Our hands help us do so many things, in every aspect of life.

The functionality of the human hand provides many advantages. But hands can also pose a threat to us, and others around us, if they are not cared for properly.

The frequent use of our hands results in common contact with not only other people, but items other people have touched. This creates a real threat, and a source of transmitting infectious disease and other bacteria between people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have made long time recommendations for simple, everyday preventive actions to help limit spread and exposure. Being mindful of our hands, and how they are used and cared for is a simple strategy that requires constant awareness.

Proper Hand Washing

Proper hand washing is something we teach to kindergartners, however it is not always performed correctly by adults.

Keeping hands clean is a key step to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and bacteria are spread by hands that were not washed effectively.

The CDC recommends cleaning hands in a specific way to provide the best level of protection. Follow these five steps every time…

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them

Substituting with Hand Sanitizer

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs in most situations. If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You can tell if the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol by looking at the product label.

Sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in many situations. However, there are some considerations when using hand sanitizers…

  • Hand sanitizers do not kill of all types of germs
  • Hand sanitizers may not be as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy
  • Hand sanitizers might not remove harmful chemicals from hands like pesticides and heavy metals

How to use hand sanitizer…

  • Apply the gel product to the palm of one hand (read the label to learn the correct amount).
  • Rub your hands together
  • Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry (this should take around 20 seconds)

When to Wash

Since hand washing is one of the best ways to protect yourself and others, it should be performed as often as possible.

However, there are certain situations where it should be emphasized…

  • Before and after eating
  • Before and after preparing food
  • Immediately after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick or showing symptoms
  • Always after using the restroom
  • After handling garbage or other debris
  • After contact with animals or pets
  • Before and after being in high-traffic public areas
  • Upon arriving and departing from home, public buildings, schools, or work

Coughs and Sneezes

Stopping a sneeze or cough from happening can be difficult. So when sneezing or coughing, it is important to control it as much as possible and protect your hands.

Do not use your hands to cover the cough or sneeze. Instead, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or use the inside of your elbow.

Throw used tissues in the trash and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Hand Contact

The current COVID-19 outbreak is a reminder that hand-to-hand contact can easily transfer microbes, like viruses and bacteria, from one person to another.

Experts recommend avoiding shaking hands whenever possible, and use non contact methods for greeting to prevent the risk of transmission. Fist bumping should be avoided as well.

However, if hand contact does occur, it is good practice to wash hands or use a hand sanitizer immediately after making contact with another person’s hand.

Avoid Touching Your Face

Keeping hands away from the mouth, nose, and eyes has long been a strategy for preventing the spread of infectious respiratory diseases, according to the CDC.

Some viruses can live a period of time outside the body, residing on commonly used surfaces such as handrails, doorknobs, and countertops.

This creates the risk of touching an infected surface and carrying the virus from the surface to our face.

Touching Surfaces

Our hands come in contact with hundreds of items each day, and many of those items are commonly used by others.

Since viruses can live for a period of time outside the body, it is important to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces like tabletops, counters, door handles, faucets, and light switches.

Also disinfect commonly touched computer hardware such as a mouse, keyboard, cellphone, laptops, and remote controls by using household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants appropriate for the surface.

Be sure to always follow label instructions.

Additional Non-Pharmaceutical Prevention strategies

The CDC has additional recommendations for non-pharmaceutical preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases.

  • Consider social distancing, which may include avoiding large crowds or mass gatherings, and remain 6 feet away from others
  • Practice common sense readiness, and consider having non-perishable foods, medicines, and cleaning supplies readily available
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • If you are sick, or experiencing symptoms, stay home

For all updates, visit the CDC website, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

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