Thursday, August 17, 2006

For pandemic flu prevention, the best advice may be "rub-a-dub-dub."

With all the talk of a possible flu pandemic coming our way, it is good to know that the simplest of acts can help keep you safe.

And anyone can do it. You do not need health insurance or a prescription (or the sometimes dreaded referral note from your doctor). You do not need seven years at a prestigious medical school or a letter from the school nurse. It is as easy for a 50-year-old to do as it is for a 10-year-old, and best of all, it is free. In fact, it is really quite universal and can help fight more than just the flu.
Here is how you do it: Find a sink, pick up some soap, wash your hands. Seems too simple to be true, right? But as it turns out, Mom was right: Washing your hands is good for your health. Viruses can survive on your hands for hours and washing your hands regularly is a proven way to decrease your chances of getting sick - even if a deadly pandemic flu hits.

You are probably thinking "Please! Of course, I wash my hands!" Well, not to burst your (soapy) bubble, but many of us are guilty of skipping out at the sink. According to an August 2005 survey sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology, 91 percent of adults say they always wash their hands after using a public bathroom, but in reality, only 83 percent were observed doing so. Even grosser, only 32 percent of those surveyed say they always wash their hands after coughing or sneezing, which means it may be time to replace the commonly heard "Gesundheit" with "Wash your hands!"

To illustrate just how big a small thing like washing your hands can be, check this out: In 2005, health workers in a poor community in Karachi, Pakistan, educated residents about washing their hands and gave out free soap. The results were quite impressive. Soap and handwashing education decreased impetigo, a contagious skin infection, by 34 percent, diarrhea by 53 percent and pneumonia by 50 percent. A researcher who studied the Pakistan experiment put it best, noting that "the time has come to shout from the roof tops that hand-hygiene promotion should be a worldwide priority."

So, even though washing your hands is the simplest of tasks, here is a few tips from our nation's top health officials: use warm water, wash with soap for at least 20 seconds (imagine singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice), and if possible use your paper towel to turn off the faucet. If you are not near soap and water, an alcohol-based gel will do.

And if not getting sick is not enough to make you wash your hands, just think how proud your Mom would be.

Photo by Julie Deshaies, courtesy iStockphoto.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Don't be a fool. Wash your hands-twice!!"