Handwashing Awareness

by Mary Rains
Mille Lacs Health System

Just a simple twenty seconds could save a person a couple weeks in bed this winter. Cold and flu season has begun and the best way to decrease the chances of being bedridden with a bad virus or bacterial infection is to practice good handwashing. Dec. 4-10 is National Handwashing Awareness Week.

Sixty five percent of all adults and children don’t wash their hands regularly. Those are the people touching grocery carts, doorknobs, and various other surfaces. And if they are sick, others will be too if a little time isn’t spent washing hands frequently during the day.

Washing for at least twenty seconds can decrease the likelihood that a person will transfer germs to themselves through touching their face and eyes or touching food while eating. Though antibacterial gel can also help the spread of bacteria and viruses, nothing beats warm soap and water, a good scrub with friction, and making sure hands aren’t re-infected (turn off faucets with a paper towel.)

Good handwashing begins at home, before children can read or write. Teach kids to always wash every time they use the bathroom; before eating or helping to prepare food; and after coughing, sneezing or using tissue.

“Germs are most often spread by contact  ̶  your hands touching an infected person or surface, then touching your face, eyes, or mouth,” said Vicki Engmark, Mille Lacs Health System Infection Control  Officer. “Germs can enter our bodies through the mouth, nose, eyes and breaks in the skin without our even knowing it.” Engmark also noted that some germs can live on dry surfaces (such as toys) for several hours and moist surfaces (like bathroom sinks) for up to three days.

An estimated 60 million days of school and 50 million days of work are lost annually because of the common cold. The flu results in 25 million missed school days, and 7.6 adult days lost. “Avoid being a statistic by taking 20 seconds to wash your hands,” Engmark said.