MAYWOOD, IL – With cold and flu season picking up, Loyola Medicine's Ellen Parker, MD, says an easy but crucial step to staying healthy this winter is something we already do: handwashing.
"Proper hand hygiene is so important, especially during the winter and holiday season," said Dr. Parker, internist and pediatrician at the Loyola Center for Health at Oak Park North. "Some colds and respiratory infections could be prevented with handwashing, so I encourage adults to brush up on best practices and show children the right way to wash their hands."
To mark the start of National Handwashing Awareness Week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer these key times to thoroughly 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 touching garbage
Dr. Parker recommends washing with soap and warm water as the best way to clean hands in most situations. "You want to get a good lather going. Wet the hands thoroughly and apply soap all over the hands – front, back and fingertips," Dr. Parker said. "The friction from rubbing the soap and water is what helps rid the hands of germs."
If soap and water are not available to you, the next best thing to use is an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Dr. Parker suggests looking for one composed of at least 60 percent alcohol as studies have shown that hand sanitizers with lower amounts of alcohol are not as effective in killing germs.
When using hand sanitizer, the CDC suggests applying enough hand sanitizer to cover all the surfaces of the hands (palms, fingertips, tops of the hand) and to rub all exposed areas together until dry.
Like a lot of Americans, you may commute to school and work via public transit. Dr. Parker suggests keeping available a travel-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. "The rails on public transit are a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses," said Dr. Parker.
If sick, Dr. Parker suggests handwashing after coughing and blowing your nose. "Covering your mouth is important but we often forget to wash our hands afterwards." For children however, remembering to cover your mouth can be difficult. "I often tell my younger patients to cough into the fold of their arm – we call it the chicken wing."
Arming yourself and your family with these simple handwashing tips can help keep you healthy this winter season.