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Your Healthy Family: Are you as good at washing your hands as you think?

Posted at 5:21 AM, May 10, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-19 10:34:53-04

Disclaimer: This is sponsored content. All opinions and views are of UCHealth and does not reflect the same of KOAA.

In Today's Your Healthy Family: We’re following up on World Hand Hygiene Day – which was last Friday - and how hand-washing has hopefully changed for the better because of what we’ve learned from the pandemic. But as the public health emergency status has eased around COVID-19, some healthcare professionals worry that many of the good hand-washing habits we built might be fading.

Even if you think you're washing your hands effectively, you might want to keep reading.

Bryan Knepper is the infection prevention manager for UCHealth in Southern Colorado. One of his responsibilities is making sure healthcare professionals are always at the top of their hand-washing game. It’s one of the most effective ways to keep the spread of illness low in a hospital setting.

Infection prevention involves a lot of education and training. One of the tools hospitals sometimes use is a gel that simulates germs. Bryan says, “It's called Glow Germ and it's a fluorescent gel. You put it on your hands and it shows up under a black light, and you use it to train people to show where they are missing.”

It’s one way to see how effective your hand-washing is. Bryan showed me how it all works. First, he rubbed the Glow Germ on both of his hands and then demonstrated how bright they appeared under a black light. Then he walked me through a proper hand-washing.

Bryan explains, “You want the water to be comfortable; you don't want it to be too hot or too cold. Then get your hands wet. Get soap on your hands, you want to cover every surface and you want to rub vigorously so that you're scrubbing off whatever bacteria, virus, dirt - anything that might be on your hands. You do that by scrubbing around the front and the back of your hands. You do the front of your palms, then the back. You want to get in between your fingers, and around your thumb as well. A lot of people forget that - you touch lots of things with your thumb so you need to really concentrate on that. And then there are a couple other things that you can do if you want to get really into it. You can interlock your fingers and scrub, and then you can go one hand on top of the other to really get the back of your hand. ”

As for how long you should wash your hands, Bryan says, “You should sing through the ABC song in your head twice.”

While we are covering the basics, how often should we be washing our hands? Bryan says, “It's a great question. How often should we be washing our hands? It's a great question and the answer is: As often as possible. You should certainly wash your hands before you eat something and you should certainly wash your hands after you use the bathroom.”

While best practice is warm water and soap for hand-washing, what if the only water available to wash your hands is cold water?

Bryan says, “The important thing with hand-washing is mechanically to remove the bacteria or viruses or whatever is on your hand, so it's the motion of rubbing that is the most important thing. So if you have cold water and that's all you've got and you've got some soap that is expired, it's still going to be better than not washing your hands.”

And when you’re done, Bryan explains don’t ruin all your good work. “Leave the water on when you finish. Dry your hands off with a paper towel and then use that to turn off the faucet because the faucet handles are probably not clean. You just used them with your dirty hands to turn on the water - so they're not clean. You want to use the paper towel to turn the faucet off. Then, when I walk out of the bathroom I still have the paper towel in my hand and I use it to open the door so that I'm not recontaminating my hands immediately after doing all of that to wash my hands and get them clean.”

Bryan also says the same techniques can be used with hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t an option.

“It's better to sanitize your hands if you don't have access to soap and water. Definitely sanitize your hands because it's going to kill bacteria and viruses that are on your hands. It doesn't kill everything, but it kills almost everything that can make you sick.”

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