Lincoln – As we enter the flu season and coronavirus continues to circulate in the community, handwashing continues to be critical in preventing the spread not only of COVID-19, but of other respiratory and diarrheal infections and antibiotic resistance. National Handwashing Week, Dec. 1-7, shines a spotlight on this important practice.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), germs can spread from other people or surfaces when you:
- Touch your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands
- Prepare or eat food and drinks with unwashed hands
- Touch a contaminated surface or objects
- Blow your nose, cough, or sneeze into hands and then touch other people’s hands or common objects
According to the CDC, studies show that you need to scrub for 20 seconds to remove harmful germs and chemicals from your hands. If you wash for a shorter time, you will not remove as many germs. Make sure to scrub all areas of your hands, including your palms, backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
Soap and water, worked into a lather, trap and remove germs and chemicals from hands. Wetting your hands with clean water before applying soap helps you get a better lather than applying soap to dry hands. A good lather forms pockets called micelles that trap and remove germs, harmful chemicals, and dirt from your hands.
Lathering with soap and scrubbing your hands for 20 seconds is important to this process because these actions physically destroy germs and remove germs and chemicals from your skin. When you rinse your hands, you wash the germs and chemicals down the drain.
Use plain soap and water to wash your hands. Studies have not found any added health benefit from using antibacterial soap, other than for professionals in healthcare settings. If you don’t have soap and water, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC notes the key times you should wash your hands:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
- 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 touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
- If your hands are visibly dirty or greasy
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, you should immediately clean your hands by either washing them with soap and water or using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.