Editor's Note: Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness in all settings, according to the CDC—including the home and health care facilities. National Handwashing Awareness Week runs each year during the first full week of December, and is currently taking place from Dec. 1—7. See more on handwashing at cdc.gov, including resources on hand hygiene in healthcare settings, and at henrythehand.com.
Newswise — [NEW YORK, Dec. 2, 2013] – As you travel to visit friends and family this holiday season, don’t leave home without the hand sanitizer. During cold and flu season, that’s one of three things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick you’re on the go. Here’s what Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing, says works best:
1. Take 15 seconds to sanitize
“The best, fastest and most effective way to clean hands when you’re on the go is to carry a small container of alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” Larson said. “A 15 second application of alcohol-based sanitizer is more effective at killing germs than a 5 minute hand wash. Plus, you don’t need to hunt for a sink and clean towels.”
Look for sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol, and be sure to use enough to keep your hands moist for at least 10 seconds – the minimum time needed to kill bacteria. “Alcohol sanitizers work only when they’re wet,” Larson said.
2. Steer clear of air dryers
If you do wash your hands in a public restroom, try to steer clear of the air dryers, Larson said. “They disperse water particles and probably some germs into the air,” she said. “It’s preferable to use a paper towel since the friction of the drying also helps to remove germs. Or, just let your hands air dry naturally.”
3. Wash every surface on the hands:
“The number one mistake people make is just rubbing their palms together, and missing the dirtiest part of their hands,” Larson said. “You can’t stop viruses from spreading unless you cover every single surface on the hands – including between the fingers and under and around the finger nails. Soap is also crucial because it acts as an emulsifier to slip the germs off the hands.”
Larson offers guidelines on hand hygiene as part of National Hand Washing Awareness Week, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 7. Larson is a fellow in the Institute of Medicine and has advised the World Health Organization on best practices for hand washing. She has been editor of the American Journal of Infection Control since 1995 and has published more than 250 journal articles, four books and a number of book chapters in the areas of infection prevention, epidemiology and clinical research.