Conveniently placed in the calendar, National Handwashing Awareness Week reminds us that the risk of infection is ever-present, especially around the holidays.
Let’s first take a little review of the Principles of Hand Hygiene that are endorsed by the AMA and the AAFP:
- Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating;
- Do not cough into your hands;
- Do not sneeze into your hands;
- Above all, do not put your hands into your eyes, ears, and mouth.
What actually happens to the surrounding environment when you cough or sneeze into the open air or your hands? According to Inside Science, a news site supported by the American institute of Physics, an average cough forces about 3,000 droplets out of the body at around 50 miles per hour.
Similarly, but on a much grander scale, is the human sneeze. Traveling at an astounding 200 miles per hour, around 40,000 droplets can be released into the air with just ONE sneeze.
For both coughs and sneezes alike, these particles range in size. Many of the particles are dense enough that they eventually float to the floor or surrounding surfaces. However, some of the particles are so light that they can linger in the air and can be dispersed through movements such as making a hospital bed or opening a door.
So what are we to do with thousands of possibly infectious droplets in our wake? One thing we can do to break the chain of infection is to wash our hands thoroughly and properly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on your hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Proper technique is just as important as using the right product. When using hand sanitizers, remember to use the adequate quantity of the product to ensure the sanitizer lasts on hands for 20-30 seconds. When using soap and water, the entire hand washing procedure should last 40-60 seconds to ensure clean hands.
National Handwashing Awareness Week only lasts until December 10, but handwashing should always be a habit we never want to quit!