Hand Hygiene: The Gateway to Good Health

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Germs are all around us any time of year, but when we’re indoors during cold and flu season, it’s more difficult to avoid exposure to viruses. At work, in school, on public transit, in grocery stores — these are all areas where we may be in confined spaces and in contact with germs.

“Our hands are big vectors for carrying various bugs all over the place because we’re touching things during everyday activities,” says Edward Leonard, MD, with Overlake’s Infectious Disease clinic.

We touch surfaces all day long — doorknobs, shopping carts, elevator buttons — then we touch our face, our mouth, our food. Germs enter our bodies through our mouths, noses and eyes, and cause infection.

One of the simplest things you can do to minimize your chances of getting sick is to have good hand hygiene. Keep your hands away from your face, and wash your hands often. If you can’t wash your hands, clean them with hand sanitizer. Wipe down common surfaces at work and shopping cart handles at the grocery store, for instance, with sanitizing wipes.

If you take the bus, Dr. Leonard advises to keep your hands in your pockets when possible. Then, you are less likely to touch germ-filled surfaces. And, once you’re off the bus, use some hand sanitizer or, better yet, when you reach your destination, wash your hands.

Other ways to stay well include maintaining a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fluids and getting a flu shot every year.

“It’s especially important for those over age 60 and people who are immunosuppressed (those with HIV, in cancer treatment, or have autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus) to get a flu shot and be very vigilant about their health,” adds Dr. Leonard. “They have less effective immune systems and are at risk for developing more serious conditions such as COPD or pneumonia.” Flu season can continue as late as May, so there is still time to get a flu shot.

If you are sick, don't go to work or school until you’re better to avoid spreading infection. If you have to go out in public while sick, wear a mask. It’s challenging, but Dr. Leonard says it’s the most important thing to do to prevent passing germs through the air to others.

And, one final tip: Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hand. “I like to describe it as the ‘vampire’ cough,” says Dr. Leonard. “If you cough or sneeze into a tissue or handkerchief, it’s still in your hand and your hand gets contaminated.”

If you are suffering from cold or flu symptoms, make an appointment today with Overlake Clinics.

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