During this holiday season, there is great emphasis on gift-giving. It is good to be generous, but there is one unwelcomed gift that we should not be sharing with others. That is the gift of a contagious illness that can be prevented by washing our hands.
You don't need expensive soaps or anything fancy to prevent the spread of many illnesses, you simply need to wash your hands with soap and water and then dry them. If you don't have a paper towel to dry them, you can let them air dry.
Study after study has proven that room temperature water is sufficient, and that mild soap, not necessarily antibacterial soaps, is as effective in preventing the unnecessary spread of many illnesses.
In fact, some studies do not encourage the routine use of antibacterial soaps as they can also rid the skin of "good" bacteria as well as the "bad" guys.
Just a quick review on how best to wash your hands:
1. Use warm water. 2. Using a mild soap, lather up between your fingers, around your nails, and up to your wrists. 3. Sing Happy Birthday or Mary had a little lamb as this will take around 15 to 20 seconds. 4. Rinse with running water. 5. Dry your hands and if you are in a public place use that paper towel to open the door as you leave.
Because we cannot see the bacteria that cause diseases we can sometimes lose the respect they deserve.
Joseph Lister (1827-1912) is considered the Father of Surgical Sterile Techniques. He proved to the world that strict adherence to hand-washing, cleaning of wounds, sterilizing of instruments, and wearing and changing gloves and surgical gowns between patients made the difference between life and death for his patients.
He had studied Pasteur's writings on the fermentation and growth of bacteria. Pasteur had suggested that the use of chemicals might prevent the development of infections. Lister proved Pasteur was correct.
When President Garfield was shot and died months later, it wasn't the bullets that killed him. It was the infections caused by well-meaning doctors that inserted their unwashed hands into his wounds to examine him.
The first doctor on the scene actually did this while he was laying on the floor of the bathroom of the train station where he was shot.
At the time Lister was lecturing all over the world about the importance of sterile technique. These doctors did not believe him. They became believers.
That is an extreme case, but it is important to remember how far we have come in understanding how important cleaning our hands is and how easily germs can be spread from person to person.
You should wash your hands before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, before and after changing a diaper, before inserting a contact lens, after touching an animal, after blowing your nose or sneezing/coughing into your hands, after handling garbage or waste, or any time you think you have touched something that might be contaminated.
So in this holiday time of gift-giving please give the gift of washing your hands not only for your own health but for all the people around you.
Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Health. Contact her at email@example.com.