How washing your hands can help you to live longer
March 26, 2020
How many times a day do you touch your face? According to a study done by Dr. Wladimir Alonso with the National Institutes of Health, it’s nearly four times every hour. Now, I want you to think about what your hands have touched over the last hour.
Did you hold a railing or lean on a countertop in public? Did you use a restroom, put on shoes, grab a door handle, play with a phone or touch a computer? Any of those surfaces can hold billions of germs. After getting the germs on your hands, it’s easy to transfer them into your body when you rub your eyes, wipe your nose or touch your lips.
Those simple daily actions with your hands, result in the transmission of nearly 80% of sicknesses and infections. Proper and regular hand washing can dramatically lower that number.
You might be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? Is hand washing really that important? Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and other organizations show it’s a vital part of everyday health.
Regular hand washing can reduce respiratory infections by 16% to 21%, absenteeism by elementary students would drop 19.8%, food-borne illness outbreaks would drop almost 50% and diarrheal disease-associated deaths would drop by 50%. A study conducted by researchers in London found that if proper hand washing became routine, it would prevent 1 million deaths every year.
How you wash and what you use matters. Simply wetting your hands with some water isn’t enough. You need to use soap to properly remove grease, grime and germs. Then you need to scrub them for at least 20 to 30 seconds. That’s about how long it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself, twice. The surfactants in soap lift soil and microbes from the skin, allowing the water to wash everything away.
Avoid using soaps that are “antibacterial.” The Food and Drug Administration has been researching triclosan, the primary antibiotic used in antibacterial soaps, for 42 years. They found no evidence of any health benefits over traditional soap.
Numerous studies show serious problems with antibacterial soaps. By overusing them we’ve created supergerms that are resistant to antibiotics. The antibiotic triclosan is an endocrine disruptor and it can interfere with the body’s regulation of thyroid hormones. Prolonged exposure can increase the risk of developing peanut and hay fever allergies. When it washes down the drain and into the environment, it can disrupt algae’s ability to perform photosynthesis.
The other way to clean your hands is with hand sanitizers. Their primary ingredient should be at least 60% alcohol. Bacteria can’t create a defense against alcohol, so if you cover your hands properly, those types of hand sanitizers kill over 99% of all the viruses and bacteria they touch.
The same rules you use to wash your hands apply to hand sanitizers. You’ve got to make sure you use enough to keep your hands wet, while you rub the sanitizer everywhere, for at least 20 to 30 seconds. If it dries before that, you didn’t use enough and you need to re-apply.
Just like soap, you should avoid hand sanitizers that use antibacterial agents like triclosan. They’re just as bad for you and the environment as antibacterial soaps.
It’s important to understand that both soap and hand sanitizers kill and eliminate all viruses and bacteria equally. There are websites that claim soap only gets rid of the bad stuff on our hands, but that’s false. There’s no way for soap or hand sanitizers to single out the bad bacteria and leave the good stuff alone. They eliminate almost everything equally.
There are a couple exceptions. If your hands are covered with grease and grime, you will need soap to get everything off. Sanitizers aren’t designed to do that. Also, if you’re in a healthcare setting that’s experiencing an outbreak of C. dificile, use soap and water. Hand sanitizers won’t kill C. difficile and they’re less effective than soap and water at killing norovirus.
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