Living Well

Proper handwashing is more important now than ever

Melissa Matherne, Director of Performance Improvement
Proper handwashing is more important now than ever

Since mid-March, healthcare officials have been hammering home the message that one way of preventing the spread of the coronavirus is to properly wash your hands and to do it often. Until COVID-19, a lot of people didn’t truly understand the seriousness of hand hygiene. However, with a pandemic still raging and now with flu season upon us, one way of proactively staying healthy is to wash your hands. You will hear that message a lot in the coming days as the second week in December is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

Your hands carry germs that cause illness

Scientists have conducted studies that show just how, to put it in simple terms, gross your hands can become if you don’t wash them often. When you come into contact with different surfaces, you pick up germs, which are tiny organisms that can cause disease or illness. Here are some things you may not know about germs:

  • Some germs can survive on your hands for up to three hours
  • In one day, one germ can multiply into more than eight million germs
  • You will find more germs on your phone, computer keyboard, or a kitchen cutting board than you will find on a toilet seat
  • You do transfer germs to whatever you eat or drink if you have not properly washed your hands
  • Drying your hands thoroughly after washing them is important as damp hands spread 1,000 times more germs than completely dried hands

Healthcare providers focus on hand hygiene because of a habit we all have; knowingly or unknowingly, throughout the day we are constantly touching our face. Studies have shown that 80 percent of germs that cause illnesses are on our hands and when we rub our face or eyes or wipe our mouth or bite our fingernails, that can be the beginning of an illness, whether it’s a cold or COVID-19.

The “T-Zone” is where germs can invade the body and cause illness

If you look in the mirror at your facial features, there are your eyes, and then below are your nose, mouth and chin. If you were to outline those features, it would resemble the letter “T.” In the medical field, the area is called the T-Zone, and it’s where illness and disease can begin as germs can center the body through the nose, eyes and mouth. Most of us don’t realize just how often we touch our face, but a few years ago, the University of New South Wales in Australia observed 26 medical students in a

classroom, and in just one hour, all 26 students had touched their face at least 23 times, with the most touches being to their hair, mouth, and chin. Whether we realize it or not, we touch our face a lot throughout the day, and if our hands are carrying germs, we could potentially ‘self-inoculate’ or infect ourselves with an illness. That’s why it’s so important to wash or sanitize your hands often, and you do it properly, so you are killing as many germs as you can to keep yourself and others healthy.

Five steps to correctly wash your hands

The National Handwashing Awareness Week serves as yet another reminder of the importance of keeping our hands clean. Healthcare providers say there are five easy steps to accomplishing that goal. The first to wash your hands often, and when you do:

  1. Get your hands wet and apply soap
  2. Rub your hands together to lather the soap so it covers both the front and back of your hands, fingers, nails and palms
  3. Scrub your hands, including between the fingers and under the nails, for at least 20 seconds. A fun way to count is to sing “Happy Birthday” twice as that will total 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands thoroughly
  5. Completely dry your hands

If you don’t have access to a facility to wash your hands, carry hand sanitizer with you and use it often. The key to hand sanitizer is alcohol, which kills germs. You need to make sure your sanitizer has at least 60 percent alcohol. The alcohol content should be stamped on the bottle, and if you don’t see a percentage of alcohol listed, find one that does have that information.

About Melissa Matherne, Director of Performance Improvement
Melissa Matherne is a Registered Nurse in the state of Louisiana. Locally born and raise, Melissa obtained her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Nicholls State University. Melissa is currently the Director of Performance Improvement, Infection Control, and Education at West Jefferson Medical Center. She is a Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality through the National Association for Healthcare Quality.