Cold Prevention With Hand Washing
Cold prevention with hand washing is one way you can stay well this season -- and you might prevent other illnesses, too, such as the flu.
Colds are spread mainly through respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes when someone has a cold. But many times, we unknowingly touch these miniscule droplets of cold germs on surfaces and then infect ourselves with the same cold virus. Some viruses and bacteria can live several hours on hard surfaces like cafeteria tables, telephone receivers, computer keyboards, and doorknobs. Cold prevention with hand washing can keep you from passing on cold viruses -- and picking up viruses on surfaces in your environment.
Hand Washing Prevents the Spread of Cold Germs
Amazingly, about 80% of infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 36,000 people die from the flu or flu-like illness each year, and another 5,000 people die from food borne illness each year. And your best protection from this type of illness is frequent hand washing. The simple friction that occurs when you rub skin against skin, along with warm water and soap, followed by thorough rinsing, and drying, gets rid of the potentially harmful bacteria.
According to the CDC, the simple act of hand washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of vital and bacterial infections. Yet some findings reveal that about many Americans using public restrooms don't wash their hands before leaving. People also forget to wash their hands before preparing meals. They grab snacks without thinking of hand washing.
Cold Prevention With Hand Washing: How Germs Spread
Each day your hands are exposed to many contaminated surfaces. Then, when you unknowingly touch your face, the germs enter your body through your eyes, nose, and mouth. You can also transmit those germs to others by shaking hands (direct transmission) or handling items that others then touch (indirect transmission).
For germs to spread from one person to another, three things must happen:
Germs must be present. A person carries the germs; the germs are in the air or on a surface; or in body fluids such as mucus from the person's nose, a discharge from the eye, or saliva from the mouth.
A person who is not immune to the germs comes in contact with them. This happens when you touch a computer keyboard or mouse after someone with a cold or other illness has used it. It can happen when you use a telephone after someone who is sick touched it, when you kiss an ill person, or when you're in the path of someone's sneeze or cough (and that's hard to prevent!).
This point of contact happens in a way that leads to infection. In other words, as you touch your face, your mouth, your nose, or rub your eyes with unwashed hands, the germs enter your body.
Why Does Cold Prevention With Hand Washing Work?
Germs are often transferred to others through household objects -- telephones, doorknobs, toothbrushes, and faucet handles. But the biggest transportation center for germs is your hands. That's why frequent hand washing gets rid of the illness-causing germs and helps to prevent the spread of some diseases -- especially if a family member, friend, or classmate has a cold or flu virus.
A program called "Operation Stop Cough" was begun at a military recruit training command center in Illinois. As part of this program, recruits were told to wash their hands at least five times a day. After two years, the hand-washing team reported 45% fewer cases of respiratory ailments, compared with the weekly rates of illness among recruits during the year before Operation Stop Cough started.
How Should I Wash My Hands for Cold Prevention?
Many of us get so busy, we simply forget to wash our hands properly. Here's the rundown:
First, wet your hands with water. Then apply soap. CDC guidelines advise using a plain, non-antimicrobial soap (this means it does not contain an antiseptic ingredient).
Now, rub your hands together vigorously for 15-30 seconds. Make sure to rub the wrists, between the fingers, and under the fingernails. When you have time, use a nailbrush, as bacteria often hide under nails.
Rinse your hands thoroughly and dry with a clean towel.
If you are in a public restroom, shut the faucet off with a paper towel. Try to push the door open with your shoulder, or use another paper towel to turn the knob.
Cold Prevention With Hand Washing: How Much Is Enough?
Wash your hands frequently throughout the day -- before and after you eat, after using the bathroom, after school, and after handling any contaminants like raw meat, unwashed vegetables, or garbage.
Also wash your hands after coughing, or touching your pet. If you are babysitting, wash before and after changing the baby's diapers and before and after feeing the baby.
What If I'm Not Near a Sink?
Keep an alcohol-based sanitizer for hands if a sink is unavailable. (Some experts believe the hand sanitizers may be more effective at killing bacteria and viruses than soap and water.)
Rub the entire surface of your hands, fingers, and wrist with the sanitizer, then let it dry. You can use this throughout the day if you're not near a bathroom. Follow up with a thorough hand scrub when you're near a sink, to prevent buildup of the sanitizer.