Question of the Week

September 22, 2008


Fall is here. Most people are a few weeks into the new school year. While some students have already been forced to take their first sick days of the year, others have managed to avoid the first bugs to sweep the schools. Either way, the cold and flu season is just around the corner.

"[T]he most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you don't wash your hands frequently, you can pick up germs from other sources and then infect yourself. You're at risk every time you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. In fact, one of the most common ways people catch colds is by rubbing their nose or their eyes after the cold virus has gotten on their hands. If people don't wash their hands frequently (especially when they're sick), they can spread germs directly to other people or onto surfaces that others touch. And before you know it, everyone around you is coming down with something!"

A lot of people say they wash their hands. Even if they don't know how important it is, and how it protects them on so many fronts, they still know it is something they are supposed to do (or at least it's the "right" answer to say that it is something they do).

In August of 2008, 916 adults answered a phone survey with the following responses:

We know how many people said that they washed their hands in various circumstances. We also know from past surveys that more people tend to say that they wash their hands than actually do.

In 2007, researches reported that: "Researchers who discretely observed men and women in public restrooms found that only 77% washed their hands with soap and water -- a 6% decline from 2005. But not many people are admitting to slipping up: In a separate telephone survey, 92% of Americans claimed they always lather up in public restrooms."

There are those who say they wash their hands; there are those who actually wash their hands; and there are those who know it is the right thing to say or do, even if they don't understand why. Parents who tell their kids to wash up for lunch or after using the restroom may not be doing it themselves because they may not understand why they should.

In a separate survey, there was one group that scored higher not only on the fact that they were more likely to wash their hands before eating, but they were also more likely to know why they should.

"A group of teachers was separately questioned and seemed to know about hand-washing hygiene.

Not everyone understands that hand washing is the best way to prevent colds and flu. It is.

"There are two major groups of microorganisms that reside on the skin: resident flora and transient flora. Resident florae are those organisms that normally reside on the skin whereas transient florae are generally regarded as contamination. Unless introduced into the body by traumatic means such as a cut, scrape or puncture, the pathogenicity of resident florae is very small. Transient florae, on the other hand, cause the most problems due in part to the fact they are considered contaminants and would not ordinarily be found on the skin. It is ironic that transient florae are perhaps the easiest to remove by mechanical means such as hand washing."

The germs that come onto people's hands throughout the course of their day are the ones that are most likely to make them sick, and they are the easiest to remove through proper hand washing.

"Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
  • Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well.
  • Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel.
  • Use a towel to turn off the faucet."

While proper hand washing takes only seconds, it can greatly reduce a person's chances of getting sick.

"In studies, washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds (about the time it takes to sing one chorus of 'Happy Birthday to You') reduces bacterial counts by about 90%. But even people who are conscientious about washing their hands often make the mistake of not drying them properly. Wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry ones."

Questions of the Week:
What reasons do you think people have for not washing their hands? What reasons can you give for why hand washing is important? What would be the best way to reach your peers and family members to help them understand the benefits of proper hand washing? Besides helping people understanding why it is important, what else can be done to encourage everyone to wash their hands more often and more thoroughly?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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