Employee & Community Health

'Tis the season to break the chain of infection

12/2/2019 by Dr. Luke Hafdahl

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'Tis the season for families to gather in their homes and celebrate the holidays. Unfortunately, we're not the only ones celebrating — germs, such as cold viruses, stomach bugs and the flu are equally thrilled to have us huddled together indoors, shaking hands and sharing towels and door handles. It just makes their job of spreading disease all the easier. 

Thankfully, our best weapon against them isn't a doctor's prescription, but wisdom from your mother! December 1-7 is National Handwashing Week, so wash your hands, wash them well, and wash them often. Here are a few tips to make sure your're doing it right. 

When to wash

  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating
  • Before and after caring for someone sick
  • After changing a diaper, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, using the toilet or touching garbage
  • After touching an animal, animal food or animal waste

How to wash

  1. Wet. Clean, running water (not water in a bowl). Any temperature is fine!
  2. Lather. Any soap will work. There's no evidence that soaps with special "antibacterial" ingredients are any better at preventing disease. 
  3. Scrub. Studies show about 20 seconds to be the right amount for most situations (sing the "Happy Birthday" song to get the timing right). Don't forget the backs of your hands and under your nails!
  4. Rinse. Again, clean, running water is a must. Standing water leads to recontamination. 
  5. Dry. Wet hands transfer germs easier. Dry them on a clean towel or air dry. 
  6. No soap & water? No problem! Hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol will do. 
  7. Want to know more? Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website about all things handwashing. 

Make sure you follow these handwashing tips to keep you and your family healthy during this holiday season!

Dr. Luke Hafdahl is a consultant and assistant professor of Internal Medicine with Employee and Community Health.