Fight disease, wash your hands

One of the most effective methods for preventing the spread of disease-causing bacteria and other germs is a simple act most of us perform every day: washing our hands. What we don’t do is perform this act properly or often enough. In this age of SARS and other serious diseases that are spread by human contact, practicing good hand washing habits can provide an effective extra line of defense for you and everyone around you.

“With over 80 percent of infectious disease being spread by human contact, it’s amazing how little care most of us take when washing our hands,” says Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., author of The Secret Life of Germs (Pocket Books, Nov. 2001). “When researchers … track people’s behavior, the numbers of those who don’t wash their hands properly, or don’t wash them at all, is staggering, often over 90 percent.”

Tierno recommends the following regimen:

n Effective hand washing requires both soap and water. Merely rinsing the hands with water alone is next to useless.

n Wet your hands thoroughly and lather them with soap

n Rub the soapy water all over the hands and fingers for at least 20-30 seconds

n Don’t forget to wash under fingernails

n Rinse and repeat

As for frequency, you should wash your hands several times a day, before eating, after using a bathroom facility and after coughing or sneezing on them. After shaking hands with someone, you should avoid touching your face or mouth until an opportunity presents itself to wash up. It also makes sense to wash whenever coming in from outside. In public bathrooms, you should wash your hands before using the toilet if you have had to touch a doorknob or other surface on the way in. When you wash your hands afterward, use a paper towel or tissue to shut off the faucet and open the door.

For an added layer of protection, use an anti-bacterial soap containing a germicide such as Triclosan. “It seems to me that germicides can be a valuable support to good health, especially for groups who are at extra risk when it comes to infectious diseases,” says Dr. Tierno. “Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with depressed immune systems are particularly vulnerable. While germicides are no substitute for conscientious hygiene, they fight bacteria, have no side effects and have not been shown to contribute to increased bacterial resistance.”

Even if you don’t fall into one of the higher risk groups, you owe it to others to be more conscious of hand washing to avoid transmitting germs. Also, habits are best formed early on. If there are any children in your home, take the time to set a good example and teach them how to wash their hands properly.

For more information on hand washing, visit

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