Tips for effective hand-washing during coronavirus outbreak, any time

The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 and influenza is frequent hand washing

By Julie Washington, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Originally Posted Mar 15, 2020

Q: What do I need to know about hand-washing during the COVID-19 outbreak?

A: The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 — the illness caused by the new coronavirus — and influenza is frequent hand-washing, said Dr. Kristin Englund, staff physician for infectious diseases at the Cleveland Clinic.

“It’s got to be first and foremost,” Englund said.

Despite the fact that proper hand-washing is critical in preventing the spread of germs, a 2013 Michigan State University study found that 95 percent of people do it the wrong way.

About 33 percent of adults studied didn’t use soap, and 10 percent didn’t wash their hands at all, according to the 2013 study published in the Journal of Environmental Health. Men were particularly bad at washing their hands correctly, the study found.

Here are tips for effective hand-washing techniques, from Englund, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Cleaning Institute:

Wet hands with warm, clean, running water before applying soap. Any hand soap is fine; it doesn’t have to be antibacterial soap.
Lather both hands, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds before rinsing and drying.
It’s fine to use either paper towels or an air hand dryer in a public restroom. If paper towels are provided, use one to protect your clean hands from the faucet and door handle. Be sure to throw the paper towel in the garbage bin so it doesn’t spread germs.
How to use hand sanitizer

Hand sanitizer is a good alternative if soap and water aren’t available, but the sanitizer must contain at least 60% alcohol.

Sanitizing gels don’t get rid of all types of germs and aren’t as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy. These gels might not remove harmful chemicals like pesticides from hands.

To use it correctly, put gel sanitizer in the palm of one hand. Read the label to find out how much to use.

Rub your hands together briskly, including the front and back, between fingers, and around and under nails, until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.

Best times to wash your hands

At home: Before and after preparing meals, before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching garbage or diapers, after caring for a sick family member, and before and after treating a cut or wound. Wash after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

With pets: After playing with a pet, handling pet food or handling waste.

On the job: Before eating and after using the bathroom. If there are shared snacks, avoid touching food that others have touched.

While running errands: Use an antibacterial wipe on the grocery cart handle, especially if a child will be riding in the cart. Avoid touching your face after contact with frequently touched surfaces.

While traveling: Keep at least 6 feet away from fellow travelers who are sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose. Wash your hands after going through airport security, and after getting off the plane.

20-second song choruses make washing fun

You’ve heard about washing hands to the tune of “Happy Birthday,” but now there are lists of other 20-second song choruses that are more fun to hum in the bathroom to ensure you are washing for the right amount of time.

Lizzo’s “Truth Hurts,” Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven on Earth,” “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” are among the hand-washing songs recommended by USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

In her column, patient advocacy writer Julie Washington will answer readers’ questions about navigating health-care systems. (She will not address individual treatments.) Your comments may be published in a future story or column. Send questions and comments for publication — including your name, city and daytime phone number — to jwashington@plaind.com. You can also find Julie on Twitter @JulieEWash.

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