The FDA recently announced a ban on certain ingredients that make anti-bacterial soaps, well, anti-bacterial. I don’t want to start a fiery debate over whether these are good or bad or safe or unsafe, but with millions of young people about to get together in large groups on a daily basis, this is a perfect segue to talk about hand hygiene and preventing the spread of germs. This is good info for everybody, not just kids!
1. Frequent hand washing is key.
Anti-bacterial soaps probably fall somewhere in the middle on both the good/bad question and the safe/unsafe question. The real secret to cleaning one’s hands is friction. Friction helps break up bacterial cell walls and dislodge bacteria sticking to your skin. Regular soap is a terrific adjunct because it helps to break up oil and grease on your hands, which may help bacteria otherwise stay stuck to your skin. Also, those bacterial cell walls are made up of mostly fat molecules, and the soap helps you disrupt them.
Of course, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. There are certain “good” bacteria that we want hanging around on our skin, and washing too often might deplete their numbers. Also, frequent washing can lead to dry, cracked skin which then allows bacteria to invade a little deeper and potentially cause skin infections.
So, wash before eating, before and after handling food, after you cough or sneeze into your hands, after using the bathroom, and at a few other times, according to the CDC.
2. Hand sanitizer is a good second choice.
Washing with plain old soap and water is best, but as long as your hands are not visibly dirty or greasy, alcohol-based liquid hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol is a reasonable option. But if you have a choice, soap and water is the way to go.
3. Cough into your elbow, not in your hand.
When you have a cold, you may cough and sneeze more often than you are able to wash your hands. So remember, whenever possible, cover those germ launches with a tissue or with your elbow or upper arm. I’m partial to the latter, since you should wash your hands after handling a dirty tissue.
4. What about the handshake?
I am generally a fan of the hand shake as it is a positive greeting and helps form a connection with patients and others that I meet. However, it is also a great way to spread germs. If you are sick or feel a cold coming on, refrain from shaking hands. Just explain that you may have a cold and don’t want to spread it around. I try to avoid handshakes in the clinical setting during cold and flu season, so please don’t be offended if I see you in the office and don’t shake your hand in the coming months!
Fever may be a sign of a serious illness such as the flu that you don’t want to spread, and frequent coughing, sneezing and runny nose make it much easier to spread germs. These are just some examples of when it would be a good time to not go to school or work. Severe or persistent illness is also a reason to see your doctor, or one of our doctors at Immediate Care West!
In good health,