Clean hands key to better winter health

Rockford area health care providers including the Winnebago County Health Department, Crusader Clinic, University of Illinois College of Medicine at Rockford, SwedishAmerican Health System, Rockford Health System, OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center and the city of Rockford are working together to prevent illness through education about the importance of good hand hygiene.

The Centers for Disease Control is reporting flu outbreaks are occurring earlier this year than in previous years, and that cases are expected to increase in the coming weeks. Colds, as usual, are becoming more common this time of year. And respiratory infections are poised to increase during the cold weather months.

Although many people take extra vitamins to ward off illness this time of year, the most effective way to prevent illness is to thoroughly wash or sanitize your hands. Clean hands are the single most important factor in preventing the spread of illness.

The CDC recommends using alcohol-based hand sanitizers to reduce the spread of illness and infections. Instant sanitizers don’t require water or towels and can be a faster and easier alternative to handwashing. Studies have found these products at least as effective as soap and water at killing bacteria. In addition, research shows the use of these products in schools reduces student absenteeism due to illness.

Simply apply an amount that’s equal to the size of a dime or quarter into the palm of your hand, depending on the size of your hands. Rub it briskly over the entire surface of both hands, including the front and back of fingers. Your hands should stay moist for 15 to 20 seconds. If not, apply more.

However, you should avoid applying these products directly on infants, who may quickly put their hands in their mouths. Young children should not use these products without adult supervision.

Handwashing with plain or antimicrobial soap and water is also a sensible strategy for maintaining good hand hygiene in home, school and work settings. It is recommended by CDC and other experts. Soap and water is also the best way to remove dirt and grime.

When washing hands with soap and water, wet your hands first with water and rub your hands together for at least 15 seconds, covering all surfaces of the hands and fingers. Rinse hands with water, dry thoroughly with a disposable towel and use the towel to turn off the faucet. Always wash your hands after using the washroom, sneezing, coughing, blowing your nose, touching pets, handling garbage, outdoor activities and before and after touching food.

Often overlooked are artificial and natural nails. Nail length is important because even after careful handwashing, the area underneath nails can harbor high concentrations of illness-causing bacteria and viruses. As a result, the CDC recommends nail tips should be kept to one-quarter inch in length or less.

All it takes is a few moments to prevent illness. By taking the time to practice good hand hygiene, you can keep yourself, family members, co-workers and others healthier.

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