Hand Sanitizing and Washing in the Time of COVID and Flu
Now, in the time of COVID and flu, hand sanitizing and washing is more important than ever. These simple measures, done frequently and effectively, help prevent COVID and flu as well as many other infections. However, their use is not so intuitive as imagined. Let’s examine the why, when, and how.
Why Sanitize or Wash?
Many infectious diseases have no reliable vaccination or treatment. Even for treatable infectious diseases, the better way to deal with them is not to have them. Prevention is the purpose of hand sanitizing and washing.
People who are infectious, whether or not they are sick, understandably contaminate their hands with the germs. Then our hands touch their hands or surfaces they have touched. We then touch our hands to our faces, in fact, according to some studies, an average of 20 times per hour. But the mucous membranes of eyes, nose, and mouth provide easy access to the body for germs, especially for viruses because of virus’ small size. We should keep our hands away from our faces as much as possible, even when the hands appear clean. However, still we touch, mostly inadvertently. Doing so, we become infected.
Sanitizing Hands or Washing Them
Hand sanitizer is a potent hygienic weapon during the frequent circumstances when hand washing is not available. While hand washing removes germs and harmful chemicals, hand sanitizers inactivate a large number of the germs without removing. They accomplish this because sanitizers containing at least 60% ethyl alcohol denature the proteins of bacteria and viruses in only about 15 seconds.
Hand sanitizers are less effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy as the dirt can protect the germs from complete contact with the sanitizer. Of course, it is senseless to use sanitizer to smear dirt more widely when removal by washing is an option.
Children should use hand sanitizers under adult supervision as swallowing hand sanitizers can cause alcohol poisoning. Children may be more likely to swallow hand sanitizers that are scented, brightly colored, or attractively packaged. Hand sanitizers should be stored out of the reach of young children.
Disposable gloves may create a false sense of security. Certainly, they shield the skin of the hands from contamination, but the gloves become contaminated and must either be treated with hand sanitizer or disposed of. Further, in removing the contaminated gloves for disposal, the previously clean hands may become contaminated.
When to Sanitize or Wash Hands
The most obvious time to sanitize or wash is after contact such as
• After touching high-hand-contact surfaces such as public touch screens, door handles, elevator buttons, handrails, and poles or handles on public transportation.
• Touching the outside of a face mask.
• Touching money.
- Tying shoes.
- Coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose.
- Touching a sick person,
- Touching an animal, animal feed, animal waste, or garbage.
- Using the bathroom or changing diapers.
- Treating a cut or wound
Important also is sanitizing or washing before
- Touching face.
- Eating, drinking, or tooth brushing.
- Preparing food.
- Touching a sick person.
- Treating a cut or wound.
- Finally, stores or venues may require sanitizer use before entering to reduce contamination on their merchandise or facilities.
How to Sanitize Hands
Using a small hand sanitizer is easy and convenient.
Choose a sanitizer with at least 60% ethyl alcohol.
Keep the sanitizer easily accessible. This negates the temptation to skip it. It also avoids germs on hands from contaminating the insides of pockets and handbags while rooting around for the sanitizer.
Use only enough sanitizer to contact germs on all hand surfaces. The idea is to kill germs by contact with the sanitizer, not to wash germs away.
Spread the sanitizer to contact all surfaces of the hands and fingers, including under the fingernails and the outside of the sanitizer bottle.
The sanitizer does its work within 15 seconds of contact.