Despite all the attention paid to the recent Ebola outbreak, the fact remains that you are much more likely to die from influenza (which kills around 30,000 people annually), pneumonia, or a host of other common infections. The good news is that most infections are preventable. And since nearly 80% of infectious diseases are spread by hands, washing your hands regularly can dramatically lower your risk.
Tens of thousands of infections are acquired each year at doctor’s offices and hospitals. These can be particularly nasty – sometimes life threatening. And the maddening thing is, they are preventable! Sometimes nurses and doctors fail to wash their hands or fail to put on gloves simply because they are lazy or forgetful. Don’t be afraid to speak up if you suspect a medical professional is approaching you with hands or tools that have been in direct contact with germs.
Plain Soap Is a Powerful Disinfectant
Washing means scrubbing with soap. Just rinsing your hands under a stream of water won’t remove the germs. It’s not necessary to use antibacterial soap, however. Regular soap works just fine – as long as you scrub, rinse, and dry.
A hand towel can capture and reintroduce germs, so use it only to dry clean hands. Wash and replace with a clean, fresh towel regularly. Alternatively, use paper towels to dry your hands.
The Politically Inconvenient Truth
about “Eco-Friendly” Air Dryers
Drying your hands in a full and sanitary manner in a public restroom can sometimes be a challenge, especially when air dryers are installed in place of paper towels.
Environmentalists pressure businesses and government agencies to install air dryers due to their lowered “carbon footprint” versus paper towels.
But do they work as well as paper towels? It’s not even close. A recent study found that it takes 45 seconds for an air dryer to get hands fully dry. It takes a paper towel only 10 seconds.
What’s more, most people who opt for air dryers don’t have the patience to wait 45 seconds. The average person spends only 22 seconds air drying their hands, leaving them partially wet and therefore vulnerable to picking up germs on door handles, clothes, or whatever else may be touched by their damp hands in lieu of paper towels.
Another problem with air dryers is that they can blow germ-laden air from the bathroom right back onto your hands! Paper towels are less likely to harbor germs and can actually help remove any infectious agents that are left on your hands after washing. The friction generated from rubbing your hands against an absorbent paper towel helps dislodge any remaining bacterial or viral residue.
The bottom line is that, in the name of a cleaner environment, air hand dryers make bathrooms less sanitary!
Don’t Overdo It
The downside to washing and drying hands regularly is that doing so can strip away moisture and cause dry skin. That’s a concern especially during these winter months when you are likely to be exposed to dry air from your home and/or workplace heating system. Applying lotion or petroleum jelly can help. Drinking plenty of liquids throughout the day can also help keep your skin hydrated.
Do wash your hands before cooking or eating or grooming. Otherwise, wash your hands only when you’ve exposed them to potential sources of contamination. Try to keep your hands away from your mouth, nose, ears, and eyes at all times to reduce the risk of contracting an infection.