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Lather, Rinse and Repeat

Posted December 12, 2012 in Advice Column, Des Moines West, Downtown

After one of the warmest winters on record, forecasters predict a return to normal for Iowa this year.

We know to plan for winter’s temperature swings and snowstorms, but we must also prepare for its seasonal cold and flu viruses. While the single best way to fight the flu is to get vaccinated, knowing proper hand washing technique can keep you from getting sick.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, good health habits like washing your hands can help prevent illnesses such as the flu. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are helpful in a pinch, but cannot rid your hands of all germs. When it comes to fighting viruses, nothing beats soap and water.

“It’s important to regularly wash your hands,” says Pam Harrison Chambers, M.P.H., PA-C, associate professor at Des Moines University and physician assistant at Iowa Health – Des Moines. “Soap and water works best. Antibacterial hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol kill off some bacteria, but hand washing gets rid of both bacteria and viruses.”

Hand washing may seem like a menial task you do several times a day, but proper technique is critical in eliminating germs. Harrison Chambers offers these simple steps to washing your hands the right way:

• Lather up. Use soap and warm water. While soap cannot kill viruses like the flu and cold, it helps loosen them from the skin and allows the water to wash them away. Be sure to wash between fingers and around the nails, areas where germs like to hide.

Scrub in. “What really helps to remove the virus and bacteria is a lot of good scrubbing and friction,” explains Harrison Chambers. “Soap loosens germs from your hands, so scrubbing hard helps remove them.” Scrub toward the sink, working from your wrists to your fingertips, to make sure the germs leave your hands.

• Sing to yourself. “It takes 20 to 30 seconds of good scrubbing to really clean your hands,” she says. “Singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to yourself twice is a good amount of time.”

• Make a clean exit. Bathroom faucets and door handles harvest germs. Use a paper towel to turn off the water and open the door on your way out.

Hand washing is your best weapon in the fight against winter’s many bacteria and viruses. Don’t take it for granted. Wash your hands frequently, and correctly, to avoid catching a bug this year.

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