Hand-washing (Lesson 23)

Mary May, Guarino, Annrose M., Roy, Heli J.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-washing is the single most important means of preventing the spread of infection. Poor hand-washing contributes to millions of cases of food poisoning every year.

These true stories are examples of the importance of proper hand-washing:

Fifteen children in Atlanta became sick with foodborne illness during the Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season. They had fever, diarrhea and abdominal pain. All the children had eaten chitterlings (pork intestines), a common part of holiday meals for some people. The disease-causing bacteria were transferred from the raw chitterlings to the children through contact with the hands of the people preparing the food.

Here is an example of the importance of hand-washing after handling pets (this is also a true story): Fifteen premature babies in a hospital became sick with a fungus. The babies had gotten the fungus from hospital workers who had petted dogs. The workers had not washed their hands after they petted the dogs and before handling the babies.

What You Will Learn:

  • The importance of hand-washing
  • The High Five method of washing hands effectively
  • When you should wash hands
  • Whether antibacterial soaps are a good choice

When Should You Wash Your Hands?

Wash your hands:

1. After playing/working outside.

2. After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing.

3. Before, during and after preparing food.

4. Before eating.

5. After bathroom trips.

6. After touching an animal (including your pet), animal food or animal waste.

7. Before and after caring for someone who is sick.

8. Before and after treating a cut or wound.

9. After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.

10. After touching garbage.

Methods of Removing Germs

Mechanical removal of germs
Hand-washing with plain soaps or detergents (in bar, granule or liquid form) lifts soil and millions of germs and allows them to be rinsed off. This process removes transient microorganisms. Transient microorganisms are the germs you pick up from the environment.

Chemical removal of germs
Hand-washing with antimicrobial-containing products kills or inhibits the growth of microorganisms. This process removes both transient and some resident microorganisms. Resident microorganisms are a healthy part of normal skin.

Antibacterial Uh-Oh!
Many soaps, detergents and other cleaning products offer antibacterial versions of their products. While extra bacteria-fighting power may sound like a good idea, researchers are beginning to disagree. Using antibacterial products on your body and in your home helps bacteria to build up resistance to being killed. If the bacteria in your home become resistant and you get a bacterial infection, the infection will be harder to cure. Here are some antibacterial tips:

  • Use antibacterial products only if soap and water are not available. If you use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, use one that contains at least 60% alcohol.. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands sometimes, but they do NOT eliminate all types of germs.
  • Use regular soap and clean, running water (warm or cold) to wash your hands and regular dishwashing soap for your kitchen.
  • Bleach or chlorine-based cleaners are effective for disinfecting floors, counters and other surfaces. These won't help bacteria become resistant.
  • Be sure to wash all fresh fruits and vegetables to get rid of any antibiotic that may have been sprayed on them while they were growing.
  • Don't take antibiotics for viral infections, such as the cold or flu. They won't help the infection go away, and they can encourage bacterial resistance. If you do take an antibiotic prescribed by the doctor, finish the prescription, even if you feel better before the bottle is empty. Never take someone else's prescription!


Hand-washing Activity

1. Test Your Hand-washing Technique

Materials needed - Glo Germ oil or vegetable oil and cinnamon, UV light, bars of soap and stopwatch.

Set out the necessary materials. If using oil and cinnamon, place a few drops of oil on your hands. Rub hands together to distribute the oil evenly. Sprinkle cinnamon lightly over the oiled hands. If you use the Glo Germ oil, rub some over both hands. Shine the UV light on your hands and notice the glowing germs. Wash your hands. Use the watch to see how long you wash your hands. Shine the UV light on your clean hands. How many germs are left?

Interesting Questions

1. What about hand lotion?

Answer: One study indicated that wearing hand lotion increased the bacterial count.

2. What about rings?

Answer: More bacteria were found while wearing rings than not wearing rings. After scrubbing hands thoroughly, the difference in bacterial count was not statistically significant. While wearing rings increased the number of microorganisms on the hands, a thorough hand-washing reduced this number to a count similar to that obtained when rings were not worn.

3. Which method of drying hands results in the lowest number of viruses and bacteria getting on hands after you wash them: cloth, paper towels or air drying with an electric blower?

Answer: Air drying with an electric blower produces the lowest and cloth drying the highest in numbers of both test organisms (viruses and bacteria).

4. How often during the day do you wash your hands?

Answer: One study indicated that their employees averaged washing hands just once during the day. Keep in mind the times to be especially sure to wash hands.

The High Five Method of Proper Hand-washing

What is the proper way to wash your hands? Use the High Five method to be sure your hands don't carry disease-causing germs.

1. Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.

2. Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well. Be sure to scrub the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.

3. Continue rubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds, which is the amount of time to hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.

4. Rinse your hands well under running water.

5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry.

2/9/2010 12:25:35 AM
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