Family Health

Handwashing 101 with Baptist’s Manager of Infection Prevention

Dec 19 • 2016

Cold and flu season is here. And between work, school, and other obligations, it might seem like preventing infections in your home is impossible. Along with the flu shot, one of the best ways to keep those pesky germs from getting you sick is proper handwashing. Lynne Lancaster, Manager of Infection Prevention and Employee Health at Baptist Memorial Health Care, shares what you need to know about handwashing and its benefits. Review our Q&A below:

Q: How much time should you spend washing your hands?

A: We generally teach 40-50 seconds for using soap and water to wash your hands.  If you’re using an alcohol-based rub, 20-30 seconds of rubbing would be recommended. Encourage young children to start early and develop good handwashing habits. Utilize singing songs as a way to make it fun, and to make sure kids spend a sufficient time washing. There are many resources on the web to give you examples or, you can develop your own song.

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes people make when washing their hands?

A: Performing handwashing correctly may sound simple, but doing it incorrectly can leave you at risk for getting infections or giving infections to others.

The most common mistakes are:

  • Not washing long enough. Singing or humming the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice should help you wash for the appropriate amount of time.
  • Not washing often enough. There are many times when the need for handwashing is obvious, but the top situations include:
    • After using the restroom, changing diapers or helping a child use the restroom
    • Before eating food, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
    • Before or after caring for someone who is sick or visiting someone in a hospital or other healthcare facility, such as a nursing home or rehabilitation center
    • After touching animals, handling their cages or handling their wastes
    • After touching garbage
    • Any time your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
  • Not drying your hands off completely. Germs love moisture and can multiply more easily in a moist environment.
  • After touching commonly touched items in the environment. Examples include bathroom surfaces (always use a clean, dry towel to turn the water faucet off after washing your hands), shared items like pens and pencils, and doorknobs in public spaces.

Q: How does proper handwashing prevent someone from getting the cold or flu?

A: The common cold, as well as the flu, are spread either by direct contact with infected secretions from contaminated surfaces or by inhaling the virus after an individual sneezes or coughs. Person-to-person transmission often occurs when an individual who has a cold blows or touches their nose and then touches someone or something else. Think of the example of going grocery shopping and touching the grocery cart that has been touched by many others, or attending your favorite sporting event and using the public restrooms and the surfaces touched frequently by so many other people.  Handwashing is the most important thing we can do to prevent getting sick or spreading germs. Many diseases and illnesses are spread by not washing your hands.

Do you have questions about proper handwashing procedure or how you can better prevent the spread of germs within your home? Speak with your doctor today for additional recommendations.