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Clean Hands Keep You Healthier Through Winter and All Year Long

What’s the best thing you can do to keep you and your family and friends safe from the flu, colds and stomach ailments this winter? Wash your hands!

“All experts agree that handwashing is the best way of preventing flu and other infectious diseases,” says Dr. Phill Collins, physician at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital’s Occupational Health Services. “Despite this, studies show that one in five people don’t wash their hands even after they use the bathroom. This means that you never know who’s going to be carrying around germs. You have to be vigilant about washing your own hands, so that you’re not picking up an infectious disease from someone else and possibly passing it on. In my practice, I wash my hands before I meet a patient, and use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after shaking hands with them. In fact, my wife and family all carry hand sanitizer, and we use it regularly.”

Dr. Collins has the following suggestions for keeping yourself and your family healthy.

Wash your hands:
• Before you eat, and before and after preparing and serving food. This will reduce your risk of catching or spreading the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
• After going to the bathroom, changing diapers, being outside, or playing with pets.
• After shaking hands.
• After coughing, sneezing or using a tissue or handkerchief.

If soap and water is not available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers with 60 – 90% alcohol are a good substitute. If you work with the public — especially in a position such as a cashier or greeter, where contact with people is very frequent — keeping a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your pocket or near your register will help you stay healthy and keep you from spreading germs on to others. (If you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, it is important to keep your bottle out of the reach of small children, as it can be very harmful if swallowed or eaten.)

When you do have soap and water at hand:
• Make sure you wash your hands in warm, soapy water for around twenty seconds — about the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
• Don’t forget to scrub the backs of your hands and under your nails.
• If you dry your hands with a paper towel, use the paper towel to cover your hand as you shut off the water at the sink.

Handwashing did not become part of standard Western medical practice until the late1800s, when it was championed by groundbreaking physicians like Dr. Louis Pasteur. Now, “handwashing is one of the most important tools in hospital infection control,” according to APD’s Infection Control Officer, Diana Colt, RN. “As part of our ongoing efforts to encourage handwashing, APD includes information about handwashing in our annual training and as part of our employee orientation program. We are participants in the New Hampshire Commission on Healthcare Quality Assurance’s High 5 program, which aims at a 100% compliance rate for handwashing throughout the state.”

For more information on handwashing, educational materials, and more, visit the Centers for Disease Control at http://www.cdc.gov/cleanhands/

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