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Posted: July 01, 2011

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Wash Your Hands to Prevent Infections

Q. I’ve been told that handwashing is highly effective way to prevent the spread of infections at any age, and I’ve been impressing this on my aging father. But what is the best way to wash your hands?

A. Handwashing is the best and simplest way to prevent infection and illness, but it must be done properly and often to be effective. Below are some tips I’ve collected from several reliable sources.

Washing your hands with soap and water works well. Here are the correct techniques:

  • Wet your hands with warm, running water.
  • Rub on soap and make a thick lather.
  • Scrub vigorously over every surface of your hands and wrists for about 20 seconds.
  • Use a scrub brush to get under your fingernails.
  • Rinse completely.
  • Dry your hands with a disposable paper towel or air dryer.
  • Use the paper towel to shut the faucet.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizing gels are better than soap-and-water in killing bacteria and viruses that cause disease. If you clean your hands with one of these sanitizers, apply the gel to one palm. Then rub your hands together and spread the sanitizer on all surfaces until dry. The gel doesn't need water to work; the alcohol in it kills the germs on your hands.

Not all hand sanitizers are the same. You should use only sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol.

Antibacterial soaps, which are different from alcohol-based sanitizers, are no better at killing germs than regular soap. The combination of scrubbing your hands with soap -- antibacterial or not -- and rinsing them with water loosens and removes bacteria from your hands.

When should you wash your hands? Here’s a list of some important befores and afters:

  • Before and after preparing food.
  • Before eating
  • After going to the bathroom
  • After changing a diaper
  • After touching animals
  • Before and after treating wounds
  • After blowing your nose
  • After coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Before and after touching a sick or injured person
  • After handling garbage
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses

It’s important to wash frequently because we collect germs on our hands during the entire day from most objects we touch. We can infect ourselves by touching our eyes, noses or mouths with infected hands. We can infect others by touching them or objects they touch.

Infectious diseases that are commonly spread by our hands include colds, flu and gastrointestinal disorders.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2011 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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