By Mountain Family Health Centers

One of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others is washing our hands. Handwashing works as a “do-it-yourself” vaccine and is a powerful way to reduce the spread of gastrointestinal and respiratory illness, so you can stay healthy and protect those around you. This quick and simple practice can keep us all from getting sick. “Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs.”

Wash your hands before, during, and after preparing food; before eating food; before and after caring for someone who is sick; 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; and after touching garbage.

Wet your hands with clean water and apply soap. Lather the backs of your hands, your palms, between your fingers, and under your nails by rubbing them together with the soap. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds (one suggestion is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice). Rinse hands well under clean, running water. Dry hands using a clean towel or air dry them. For more on proper handwashing techniques click here.

Hand hygiene is especially important in healthcare settings to prevent the spread of infections. Cleaning your hands can prevent the spread of germs, including those that are resistant to antibiotics and are becoming difficult, if not impossible, to treat. On average, healthcare providers clean their hands less than half of the times they should. On any given day, about one in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection. Cleaning your hands reduces the spread of deadly germs to patients and reduces the risk of health care provider colonization or infections acquired from patients.

If you are a patient, you can reduce your risk of infection by asking and reminding your health care team to wash their hands or use hand hygiene measures. As a patient, you can spread germs easily too, so protect yourself and others by assuring your hands are clean. You are also at risk of getting an infection while you are being treated for something else. For more, click here.

For a wealth of interesting information on the history of hand hygiene, options to soap and water, and how this impacts providers and patients in healthcare settings click here.