NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Fight Flu-causing Germs with Good Hand Hygiene

flu, germs, hygiene

Submitted by Dena Kemmet, Extension Agent/Family and Consumer Sciences

With a growing worldwide flu pandemic, parents may be wondering if they should add hand sanitizers to their children’s backpacks. Many schools are adding dispensers filled with hand sanitizer.

Researchers have shown that each hand may carry 10,000 to 10 million bacteria. Sneezing or coughing into your hands and then touching inanimate objects, such as doorknobs, can lead to the spread of germs from person to person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently recommended four ways to help you and your family keep from getting sick with the flu at school and at home:

  1. Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
  1. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not in your hands.
  2. Stay home if you or your child is sick for at least 24 hours after there is no longer a fever or signs of a fever (without the use of fever-reducing medicine). Keeping sick students at home means that they keep their viruses to themselves rather than sharing them with others.
  3. Get your family vaccinated for seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu when vaccines are available.

The CDC has referred to hand washing as the “single most effective way to prevent the transmission of disease.” When washing hands, it is important to scrub for a full 20 seconds. Many people forget to wash their hands for this long. A good practice is to sing a "hand washing song" while you wash as a way to help measure if you have been scrubbing long enough. Happy birthday or the ABC song (twice) both work well. However, sometimes soap and water are not readily available.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick
  • After using the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

Hand sanitizers increasingly are being recommended for the times when hand-washing facilities are not available. Alcohol can kill bacteria and viruses. Effective alcohol-based gels usually contain ethanol or isopropanol, or both. Experts recommend that hand gels contain at least 60 percent alcohol.

Bottom line: In the kitchen, people have ready access to a sink to wash their hands. Using a hand sanitizer is not an effective substitute for hand washing during food preparation.

In other settings, such as schools or workplaces, a dime-size dollop of hand sanitizer rubbed into the hands for 30 seconds can be used to clean your hands.

Sources: Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist


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