December 2 - 8 is National Handwashing Awareness Week and an opportunity to remind young and old alike about the importance of handwashing to stay healthy this cold and flu season. Germs are most commonly spread by respiratory droplets emitted from sneezing and coughing. When these droplets land on your hands, they are transmitted to things like doorknobs, elevator buttons and other surfaces the people around you are likely to also touch. Research shows that within 24 hours of a respiratory infection being introduced into a work environment, 90% of the commonly touched surfaces are contaminated with those germs 1.
According to Inside Science, a news site supported by the American Institute of Physics, an average cough would fill about three-quarters of a two-liter soda bottle with air and forces about 3,000 droplets out of the body at around 50 miles per hour. That being said if a person is sick, the droplets in a single cough may contain as many as two hundred million individual virus particles.
Similarly, but on a much larger scale, is the human sneeze. Traveling at an astonishing 200 miles per hour, up to 40,000 droplets can be released into the air with just ONE sneeze.
For both coughs and sneezes alike, these particles range in size and any viruses traveling in these tiny droplets can survive for hours. Depending on the density of the particles they either float down and land on the floor or surrounding surfaces where they can survive for days. However, some particles are so light that they can linger in the air and continue to be dispersed by the room’s airflow.
So what are we to do with thousands of possibly infectious droplets in our wake? One thing we can do to break the chain of infection is to wash our hands thoroughly and properly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), washing with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of microbes on your hands. With this being National Handwashing Week it’s a great time to review the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness as endorsed by the American Medical Association and American Academy of Family Physicians in 2001.
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
Proper technique is just as important as using the right product. When using alcohol hand sanitizers, remember to use the adequate quantity of the product to ensure the sanitizer lasts on hands for 20-30 seconds. When using soap and water, the entire hand washing procedure should last at least seconds to ensure clean hands.
National Handwashing Awareness Week only lasts until December 8, but handwashing should always be a habit!
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