As we approach Thanksgiving this week, our thoughts naturally turn to spending time with loved ones, but likely also to the upcoming Christmas season, which brings with it all sorts of social activities and events. Whether it’s shopping trips, Christmas parties or pictures with Santa, many holiday traditions involve being around others. This, of course, creates environments where germs can spread easily from person to person. This time of year typically is associated with various illnesses already, but once you start adding hugs, kisses and handshakes, your chances for exposure to a germ or virus increases dramatically. Simply cleaning your hands properly, however, can help prevent the spread of illnesses and keep you healthy this season.
Blount Memorial Hospital’s infection control coordinator Mary Kathryn Cockrill says there are two critical things to remember when it comes to hand hygiene this holiday: duration and coverage area. “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 that is that it’s about as long as it would take you to sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song two times,” Cockrill said. “Remember to scrub your hands vigorously, covering all the surfaces of your hands and fingers. This absolutely is the easiest way to prevent the spread of infections any time of year. If soap and water are not available, you can 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 you should do your best to clean your hands as often as possible, but it is especially important under certain circumstances. “If you’re about to eat a meal or grab a snack at a Christmas party, be sure to take time to clean your hands first,” she said. “If you’re the one who’ll be preparing that meal or snack for others, definitely make sure you’re cleaning 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. “These are pretty commonplace situations where cleaning your hands should be a standard practice, but don’t forget to wash up after you take out the garbage or play with the family pets, as well,” she added.
Overall, Cockrill says, you should consider maintaining proper hand hygiene as taking charge of your health. “Simply keeping your hands clean can help keep you from catching that cold that your niece or nephew has, or the flu that has kept your brother-in-law out of work for the last few days,” she said. “It’s a good, easy way to stay healthy over the holidays.”