Warmer weather is here, and with winter behind us, we can breathe a sigh of relief that the season for increased risk of cold and flu is over. Still, bacteria and viruses can make us sick at any time of the year, and we want to take steps to protect ourselves. Having a cold when it’s 80 degrees out is a special kind of misery!
If you or someone you love is getting up in years, you probably also know that elderly individuals are especially susceptible to many illnesses because of the natural weakening of the immune system that happens as we age. Thankfully, the single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs is something that is easy for any of us to do: washing our hands.
In healthcare settings, hand washing prevents potentially fatal infections from spreading between patients or between health care workers and patients. At home, it can keep infection or sickness from spreading among family members and sometimes throughout a community.
Sounds simple, right? In order to experience the full germ-fighting power of washing your hands, though, you need to be aware of situations where it is important, and you need to know how to do it correctly.
When to Wash Your Hands
Most of us know that we should wash our hands before we eat or after we use the restroom, but there are many other situations where washing hands is important to prevent the spread of germs. These include:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before and after eating
- Before and after touching or treating a cut or wound
- After using the restroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching pets, pet food, pet toys, or leashes
- After cleaning up pet waste
- After handling pet food or treats
- After touching garbage
- Before inserting or removing contact lenses
How to Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands correctly involves much more than simply running them under the faucet for a few seconds. According the the CDC, effective hand washing can be broken down into five steps: wet, lather, scrub, rinse, and dry.
- Wet. Ideally, you want to use clean, warm, running water (a standing basin is not as effective as it could transfer germs), then turn off the faucet.
- Lather. Apply soap and lather by rubbing your hands together. Make sure you pay attention to the palms and backs of your hands, the areas between your fingers, and under your finger nails. Lather all the way up to your wrists on both sides.
- Scrub. Keep rubbing your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to say the ABC’s or sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
- Rinse. Turn the water back on and rinse well.
- Dry. To avoid recontaminating your hands, use a clean towel, a paper towel, or an air dryer.
If soap and running water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable substitute. Make sure that you use a sanitizer that contains 60-95% alcohol – and use more than you think you need.
Regular hand washing is our best weapon against sicknesses such as influenza, the common cold, strep throat, pneumonia, and intestinal disorders. Protect yourself and your loved ones by making it a part of your daily routine.
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