Handwashing 101: 5 Steps to Remember During Back to School Season

As kids head back to school, we all know that runny noses, upset bellies and congestion-clearing coughs aren’t far behind. Let’s face it, germs are everywhere, and public spaces like schools serve as the perfect backdrop for spreading sickness.

People typically touch their faces sixteen times in the span of one hour, transferring bacteria to their mouths and increasing their likelihood of contracting a virus. As a result, it’s not surprising that 80 percent of all infections are spread by hands.

How you wash your hands can help prevent the spread of disease. While straightforward, the task isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. In fact, a study by researchers at Michigan State University found that 95 percent of individuals wash their hands incorrectly.

The Proper Technique

Proper handwashing is all about time and technique. To effectively kill illness-causing germs, the process should take about the same amount of time as it would take you to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. By dedicating at least 30 seconds to the task, you’re much more likely to rid yourself of harmful bacteria, minimizing the chances of infecting yourself of someone else.

In addition to spending too little time washing their hands, people often make the mistake of putting too much emphasis on scrubbing their palms. Germs like to congregate and hide in regions like the back of our hands, between fingers, on wrists, around cuticles and underneath fingernails. Scrubbing all areas of the hand from the wrist to the finger tips is key.

Long-Term Benefits

Handwashing can help keep kids healthy as they go back to school, and there are also long-term health benefits. Thirty percent of diarrhea-related illnesses and 20 percent of respiratory infections can be prevented just by washing your hands. Handwashing is the first line of defense against the common cold and more serious illnesses such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, the flu and hepatitis A.

What About Hand Sanitizers?

When you don’t have access to a sink, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be substituted for handwashing if your hands aren’t visibly dirty. A sanitizer with an alcohol base of at least 60 percent should reduce germ count, but it will not eliminate all germs. In fact, hand sanitizers do not kill germs linked to salmonella, E. coli, MRSA (a type of staph infection) and norovirus, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states washing properly with soap and water whenever possible is the best method.

Ultimately, handwashing is the most effective method to safeguard against the spreading of germs. This is especially important for kids entering or re-entering a classroom setting. Before your kids board the bus, remind them to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after blowing their nose and when handling trash.

Here are 5 simple steps to teach your children proper handwashing:

  1. Wet hands with warm or cold water and apply soap.
  2. Lather generously by rubbing hands together (make sure to lather the backs of hands, between fingers and under nails).
  3. Scrub for at least 30 seconds.
  4. Rinse well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry well using a clean towel or air dryer.

For more information on how to keep your kids healthy as they head back to school, speak with your Lahey Health provider.

*The content on this website is for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Please consult a physician regarding your specific medical condition, diagnosis and/or treatment.

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