Now deep in the winter months, we are in the middle of cold, cough and flu season.
It is this time of year that the public must be especially aware of the information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases and other public health organizations and follow through on their suggestions.
According to the CDC, there are “3 Actions to Fight the Flu.”1
- Take the time to get a flu vaccine.
- Take everyday preventative actions, including washing your hands with soap and water, and if soap and water is not available use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
Many can check the first step off their list early; flu shots have become the norm in many areas today.
But just as important as a flu vaccine is diligent hand hygiene to decrease the spread of germs that can make us and others sick.
Studies have been conducted on the effects of hand hygiene related to influenza, respiratory and viral infections.
In a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control and led by Elaine Larson, RN, Ph.D., from the School of Nursing and Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, it found that alcohol-based hand sanitizer whether foam, gel or wipes all significantly reduce viruses on hands.2
Further research has been published in the American Journal of Public Health by Allison Aiello, Ph.D. and Larson, concluding hand hygiene interventions are efficacious for reducing gastrointestinal illnesses.3
To learn more about this topic, we turned to Jim Arbogast, Ph.D., GOJO scientist, about the importance of maintaining a hand hygiene regimen during the winter months.
When are the critical times to perform hand hygiene?
Jim Arbogast: It’s important to perform hand hygiene throughout the day, both at home and at work.
There’s many occasions where it can benefit you, such as before you eat, as you’re preparing food, and if you ever deal with anyone who’s sick or injured, that’s a key moment.
And then I like to tell people after you’ve touched something that could be contaminated like the trash, or diapers, or you’ve contaminated yourself like sneezing or coughing, and of course the one that everyone knows is after you use the bathroom, you should wash or sanitize your hands.
What is a good routine for handwashing and hand sanitizing?
Jim Arbogast: A good routine for proper hand hygiene, which is especially important during the winter germ season when you’re more at risk, is to wash your hands.
The experts recommend washing for at least fifteen to twenty seconds.
You’ll hear some people recommend singing the Happy Birthday song a few times or the ABCs all the way through — as you’re doing that it’s really important to cover your whole hand and make sure you use enough friction to get the germs lifted off the skin and down the drain.
Now sinks and soap that you trust isn’t always available so a great solution in those cases is an alcohol based sanitizer, and in that case you want to use enough to cover your whole hand.
Experts recommend having your hands wet for about ten to fifteen seconds.
How can we reduce our risk of getting sick?
Jim Arbogast: I’m definitely a believer that hand hygiene is the number one most important way to stop the spread of germs and reduce the odds of getting sick.
It’s well proven at hospitals, but I think throughout our daily life, hand hygiene is critical.
People forget about it sometimes but it’s really simple and it’s important.
It’s all about reducing risk.
If you‘ve got germs on your hands, there’s a risk that they can get in your body or get in someone else’s body and make you or them ill.
Washing your hands or using an alcohol- based hand sanitizer is going to reduce that risk.
How can businesses promote good hand hygiene?
Jim Arbogast: There are many good solutions around hand hygiene that employers can provide for their employees.
Number one I would say is in a bathroom, you want to provide a good hand wash.
I like to see an alcohol based instant hand sanitizer at the door of the bathroom to try to catch that portion of the population that just doesn’t wash their hands.
Throughout the building, especially at places where there’s a lot of traffic, such as the elevators, lobbies, cafeterias — you want to provide an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer so they have that option at points where they’re at risk of either getting contaminated or contaminate themselves.
And again, any sink throughout the building should have a good handwash.
How can good hand hygiene be promoted to children?
Jim Arbogast: There are many good tips that can be taught to children around hand hygiene and many of them are the same as they were years ago, especially around handwashing.
You want to wash your hands effectively for fifteen to twenty seconds, cover the whole hand and use enough force to rub the germs off your hands and down the drain.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer gives us a great ability to teach kids to clean their hands before they eat, after or during a sporting event, when they’re at school contacting a lot of other kids — all of these situations are good times to use an alcohol-based instant hand sanitizer.
Following any of these helpful tips can help anyone fight off germs this winter season.
Remember; when in doubt wash your hands.
If soap and water is not available, choose a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
2 Larson, E., Cohen, B., Baxter, K., “Analysis of alcohol-based hand sanitizer delivery systems: efficacy of foam, gel, and wipes against influenza A (H1N1) virus on hands” American Journal of Infection Control, 2012 November: 40(9):pp. 806-9.
3Aiello, A., Coulborn, R., Perez, V., Larson, E., “Effect of Hand Hygiene on Infectious Disease Risk in the Community Setting: A Meta Analysis,”American Journal of Public Health, 2008 August; 98(8); pp 1372-1381.
Samantha Williams is public relations director, GOJO Industries. For more information and downloadable posters, videos and tools for your organization, facility, school or family, please visit www.GOJO.com/ColdAndFlu or www.Purell.com/ColdAndFlu.