Hand-washing Tips To Avoid The Flu

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - May 06, 2009
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OK, so I know we all probably learned how to wash our hands in kindergarten, maybe even before that. But with the swine flu making its way through the U.S. (as of May 1 there were no reported cases in Hawaii), this is definitely a good time for a refresher course.

Here are some hand-washing tips from Dr. Erlaine Bello, chair of the Infection Prevention and Control Committee at The Queen’s Medical Center: * Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub. * Wash your hands before you touch your mouth, before you eat and if you touch anything that may have been contaminated with another person’s respiratory droplets. * If you use an alcohol-based lotion, you should be rubbing until the lotion dries. * After you wash with soap and water, use a paper towel to dry your hands off and then use that same paper towel to turn off the faucet. * At home, rather than using a cloth hand towel, use something completely disposable, such as a paper towel. * Even if you blow your nose into a tissue, wash your hands afterwards.


“It’s important for people to understand that influenza viruses, and swine flu is an influenza virus, are spread from person to person by respiratory droplets,” says Bello. “And what happens when people cough or sneeze, these droplets are propelled through the air and they can be deposited on the mucus membrane, on the mouth, nose and people nearby (within a meter of distance).”

Bello says influenza viruses also can be spread when a person touches the respiratory droplets on another person or object and then touches their mouth or nose or someone else’s mouth or nose before they wash their hands.

“Studies show that an average person touches their face, mouth and nose area an average of 16 times a day,” she adds. “So one of the best ways to prevent transmission is, No. 1, people should cover their mouth and nose area during a sneeze or cough, and then hand-washing.”

Bello also advises for people who are sick to stay home, don’t go to work or school.

“If you have a fever greater than 100 degrees, a cough, sore throat, runny nose, gastrointestinal problems, these are all symptoms of the possibility that you may have influenza,” she warns.

As for hand-washing, I’ve heard to scrub for the length of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song or the ABCs. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 20 seconds of rigorous scrub after lathering.

Whichever song you choose to sing, just remember you can’t wash your hands enough.

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