Our Maine Street's Aroostook Issue 18 : Fall 2013 - Page 79

Healthy You: Clean Hands Save Lives by Kim Jones, Cary Medical Center I have a slightly exaggerated yet not entirely unearned reputation for being a germaphobe. Yes, I am the girl who has hand sanitizer in her purse at all times, travels with disinfectant wipes in her suitcase, and flushes public toilets with her foot. But I wouldn’t say that I obsess about the microorganisms trying to take me down. I have come to terms with knowing there are more germs under my watch than there are people in Europe. Just because I’ve made my peace with the science, however, doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw in the towel when it comes to minimizing my risk of ‘catching something’. around an arsenal of disinfectants. Surveys conducted with thousands of people in five large US cities revealed that 95 percent of the population claims to wash their hands after using a toilet. Monitoring of public bathrooms, however, revealed that number is actually closer to 65 percent. That means for every ten people, about four of them don’t wash after pottying. In New York City, that number dropped to even less with fewer than half of the population washing their hands after using the bathroom. Yikes! Or rather, YUCK! (Chicago ranked best with 83 percent of people lathering up in the bathroom.) With the number of germs on hands more than doubling after using the toilet, it’s easy to see why this one factor alone is problematic from a health standpoint. But wait… it gets worse. December is National Hand Washing Month! The fact is 80 percent of all infectious diseases are transmitted through hand contact. “When we touch a contaminated object and then touch our nose, mouth, or other open orifice, we run the risk of introducing germs into our bodies that can cause very serious illness, such as influenza, staph infection, or salmonella,” said Ann King, RN, CIC, Cary Medical Center Infection Control. “The reverse is also true in that we transfer these infectioncausing microbes from our bodies onto objects where they can be picked up by someone else.” With the average adult touching as many as 30 objects within a minute, our exposure to germs is unavoidable. Frequently used objects like doorknobs, handrails, and light switches rarely (if ever) get washed making them perfect places to harbor bacteria, virus, and fungi. These microbes can survive for up to 18 hours on hard surfaces. Therefore, even if something looks clean or hasn’t been used for awhile doesn’t mean it’s germ-free. So how do we protect ourselves from this relentless attack on our immune system? “The single most effective way to prevent the spread of germs that cause illness is proper hand hygiene,” said King. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends you wash your hands with soap and water for at least 15 seconds (with more recent research revealing that 30 seconds is best). This is how long it takes to properly scrub both hands and significantly decrease the presence of infectious microbes on them. What’s the average wash time, you might ask? A mere 9 seconds. “Even if you’re diligent about washing your hands when you’re supposed to, chances are you’re still not effectively getting the job done,” said King. And for those who think hand washing is overrated and unimportant, think again. The World Health Organization estimates that one million deaths every year could be prevented if everyone routinely washed their hands. According to King, proper hand hygiene is as important as vaccinations when it comes to preventing the spread of several infectious illnesses. “It’s not just a matter of removing dirt and eliminating odors. Hygiene truly impacts your health and the health of those you come into contact with I wish everyone washed their hands as often as recommended, both directly and indirectly.” Remember, 80 percent all but, sadly, this is not the case - hence the reason I haul infectious diseases are transmitted by touch. FALL 2013 79