Posted: Monday, December 3, 2018

Hand Hygiene and the Holidays

Ready or not, Christmas is on its way, which means many people will be spending lots of time with, well, other people. Whether it’s office Christmas parties, family gatherings or group shopping trips, a lot of us spend a lot of time interacting with others, sometimes more frequently than in the other eleven months of the year. And while it’s a time to look forward to, it also brings with it the potential for unwanted elements, not the least of which is the spread of germs. This time of year already is plagued with illnesses, but once you add in a few well-meaning hugs and handshakes, your chances for exposure to a germ or virus increase dramatically. Simply cleaning your hands properly, however, can help prevent the spread of illnesses and keep you healthy this season.

“Obviously, the holiday season is a time for us to enjoy the company of our family and friends,” said Mary Kathryn Cockrill from Blount Memorial’s Infection Control team. “During this very busy time of year, though, it is important to remember to practice proper hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of illnesses. After all, it’s no coincidence that colds and the flu pop up more frequently this time of year,” she said.

Sharing information from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), Cockrill says the secrets to proper hand washing are coverage area and duration. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. An easy way to remember this is it’s about as long as it would take you to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song two times,” Cockrill said. “You want to focus on scrubbing your hands vigorously, covering all the surfaces of your hands and fingers. This absolutely is the easiest way to prevent the spread of infections not only around the holidays, but any time of year. If soap and water are not available, you can always use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, but the important thing to remember is to make sure that it contains at least 60 percent alcohol. You’ll need about a dime- or quarter-sized amount in your palm. Rub it all over your hands and fingers until they’re dry,” she added.

Cockrill says we should wash our hands as often as possible, but it is even more important in certain situations. “If you’re about to eat a meal, or even just a snack, always clean your hands first,” she said. “If you’re the person who is preparing a meal or snacks for others, it’s critical that you clean your hands before, during and after preparation. Of course, you always should clean your hands with soap and water, or at least hand sanitizer, after you use the restroom and after you cough or sneeze. If you’re caring for a child or an adult who is sick, keeping your hands clean also will help keep you from catching the illness yourself,” she explained. “Don’t forget to wash up after you take out the garbage or play with the family pets, as well,” she added.

“Proper hand hygiene is a great, effective way to take charge of your own health and well-being this holiday season,” Cockrill said. “Sometimes just washing your hands the right way can help keep you and your family safe from infections and viruses, which helps everyone have a happier holiday season.”

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