"Wash your hands!" How many times have you heard that from your parents? You might think they're just nagging you, but actually the most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands.
If you don't wash your hands well and often, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself. You're at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands.
If people don't wash their hands often (especially when they're sick), they can spread germs directly to other people or onto surfaces that others touch. And before you know it, everyone around you is coming down with something!
The First Line of Defense Against Germs
Think about all of the things that you touched today — from the telephone to the toilet. Maybe you blew your nose and played with your dog. Whatever you did, you came into contact with germs. So it's easy for germs on your hand to end up in your mouth (maybe when you scarfed that handful of popcorn with your teammates right after soccer practice).
By frequently washing your hands the right way, you'll wash away germs — such as bacteria and viruses — that you have picked up from other people, through contaminated water and food, from tainted surfaces, or from animals and animal waste.
Defensive Hand Washing
In 2010 the American Society for Microbiology and the American Cleaning Institute did a survey of hand washing. They asked people questions about their hand-washing habits and also watched people in public restrooms.
The results were kind of gross. For example:
And even if you're a good hand-washer, your friends may be harboring some dirty little secrets: Students don't wash their hands often or well. In one study, only 58% of female and 48% of male middle- and high-school students washed their hands after using the bathroom. Yuck!
How to Wash Your Hands Correctly
There's a right way to wash your hands. Follow these simple steps to keep your hands clean:
To prevent chapping or dry skin, use a mild soap with warm water, pat rather than rub hands dry, and apply a moisturizing lotion liberally afterward.
If soap and water aren't available, waterless hand sanitizers, soaps, or scrubs are a good alternative. They're usually available as a liquid, wipes, spray, or towelettes, and often come in small travel sizes that are perfect for keeping in your book bag, car, locker, purse, or sports bag.
Remember, good hand washing is the key to preventing the spread of many common infections. So hum a few verses of "Happy Birthday" and lather up!
Reviewed by: Rupal Christine Gupta, MD