Have a Happier, Healthier Holiday Season: Remember to wash your hands!
The holiday season is here—a time of tradition, travel, and fun with family and friends. It is also a time when we should all pay closer attention to our health by following effective practices to stay as healthy as possible.
Flu season is upon us, which compounds our health concerns at this time of year. Statistics show that the months of December through March are when the flu is most active.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that an average of five to twenty percent of the U.S. population will become infected with the flu each year. That’s between 1.5 million and 6.3 million people.
Flu, or seasonal influenza, is caused by a number of viruses, and the infection affects people’s respiratory systems with symptoms ranging from mild to life threatening. Flu is highly contagious and, during the season, employers and schools commonly experience noticeable spikes in absenteeism.
“The CDC reports that the most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease is proper hand washing,” advises Lia Estadi, R.N., infection control nurse at Washington Hospital. “Flu viruses are spread primarily by droplets that are created when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk. You can also get the flu by touching a surface or object with flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth or nose. Besides staying away from people who are sick, and staying home when you are sick, the best way to prevent infection is to wash your hands frequently with soap and water.”
For all of these reasons, we celebrate Hand Washing Awareness Week every year to remind people of the importance of hand hygiene. This year’s observance is from Dec. 1 through Dec. 7.
“We should remember, however, that proper hand washing is vitally important throughout the year,” adds Estadi.
The “4 Principles of Hand Awareness” may help you remember steps to take to avoid getting the flu:
- Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating.
- Do not cough into your hands.
- Do not sneeze into your hands.
- Do not put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth.
The Henry the Hand website, at www.henrythehand.com, in partnership with the CDC, advises people not to breach the “T Zone” – your eyes, nose and mouth, which are the main portals of entry into your body. It’s through these areas that the majority of diseases enter the body.
“This is why the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness are so important,” Henry the Hand explains.
What is the best way to wash your hands?
Estadi recommends: “Follow these steps before, during and after preparing food, before eating, before and after caring for someone who is sick, and after using the toilet:
- “Wet your hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to make a lather and scrub them well, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Continue rubbing for at least 20 seconds – long enough to hum the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice over.
- Rinse your hands well under running water.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel or air dry them.”
If clean, running water is not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
To see a list of additional times when you should wash your hands, go to the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/handwashing/.
If you will be traveling during the holidays, besides following hand hygiene guidelines, keep these other pointers in mind:
- Get a flu shot.
- Boost your vitamin C intake by eating more oranges, red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes, as well as other foods that are rich in Vitamin C.
- Get plenty of rest to keep your immune system strong.
Washington Hospital has a longstanding commitment to spreading the word about the importance of hand hygiene to our community. For five years, we have collaborated with local schools to teach students how and when to wash their hands through the Washington Hospital Community Health Improvement Program and Community Health Resource Library.
In the hospital, there is an aggressive hand hygiene program to protect patients by supporting staff, physicians, volunteers, and visitors in following hand washing recommendations. A variety of resources are provided, including greater access to hand sanitizing gel, more visible signage, and positive reinforcement for staff and physicians who consistently follow the guidelines.