‘Tis the season for holiday gatherings where we share food, time together, and germs. No matter where you are, keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from germs that can make you sick. Regularly washing your hands or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water aren’t readily available helps keep you and those around you healthy.
The CDC recommends washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. That’s about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. It’s important to use soap and water and consider your technique. Turn one palm upward under the nozzle of the soap bottle and pump out some soap with the other hand. Rub your palms all over, including the fingernails, and then rinse it under running water to wash off. When you’re done, dry your hands using a paper or cloth towel and you the towel to turn off the spigot. If you are using a paper towel, dispose of it.
Water and soap may not always be immediately accessible, and in these cases using an alcohol-band hand sanitizer is adequate. Ensure the sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol. Squirt a dime to quarter-size amount in the palm of your hand and then rub all surfaces of your hands and fingers until dry.
When to Wash
You can help yourself and your loved ones stay healthy by washing your hands often, especially during these key times when you are likely to get and spread germs:
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- Before and after eating food
- Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- Before touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- After using the toilet
- After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the restroom
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
- After handling pet food or pet treats
- After touching garbage
- After touching objects or surfaces that may be frequently touched by other people, such as door handles, tables, gas pumps, shopping carts, or electronic cashier registers/screens
Explaining Germs to Kids
While you want your kids to be aware of hygiene and what causes illness in them, you should not instill fear in them about germs. The concept of germs is abstract for children, but important as teaching them about germs and explaining hygiene make it easy for you to keep them healthy. Kids often think that germs are bugs, insects, or something gross. Explain to them what they are and start with the basics and expand as they grow.
Start teaching proper hand hygiene at a young age when we’re teaching other hygiene behaviors (bathroom, kitchen/food preparation) to help connect the dots to the children that germs are everywhere, and we always need to be practicing proper hygiene. Young children learn by imitating the behaviors of adults in their lives. When you make handwashing part of your routine, you’re setting an example for your children to follow.
An important step of teaching about germs for kids that many parents miss: Having your child repeat back to you what you said, so that you know that they understand it. This step can help you clear up any misunderstandings before they take root. This will help you cater the discussion to what your child is not only retaining but also understanding.
Watch out for overkill. While it’s important to teach our kids about basic hygiene, some kids are prone to going overboard. In general, parents should have a relaxed, matter-of-fact attitude towards germs and cleanliness – while washing your hands after using the bathroom should be sacrosanct, keeping your hands completely clean at all times is not only unreasonable, it also may be unhealthy.
Rutul Dalal, M.D., is the medical director of UPMC Infectious Disease in North Central Pa. and sees patients at UPMC Williamsport, 700 High St., Williamsport.