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Your Healthy Family: How to effectively wash your hands

Posted at 10:14 AM, Aug 01, 2023
and last updated 2023-08-04 06:07:24-04

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly put a focus on the importance of washing our hands. And with life essentially back to normal, an Infection Prevention Manager for a hospital system said it's still just as important.

"At the beginning of the pandemic, hand washing improved a lot. I think that overtime, as people have gotten used to being in the pandemic, that probably has decreased," Bryan Knepper, the Infection Prevention Manager for UCHealth in Colorado, said.

He said because just because COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency doesn't mean we should be slowing down on our hand washing.

“Hand washing is as important as it has ever been, because viruses and bacteria are still around. Even though the COVID pandemic is continuing to evolve, there are still a lot of viruses and bacteria that are out there and a lot of them like to live on surfaces,” Knepper said.

He said regular hand washing can help us avoid many common illnesses.

"A lot of things like to live on surfaces, including influenza. That's one thing that people usually think about being transmitted by coughing or sneezing or a respiratory, but it does like to live on surfaces. So you can pick it up from touching a doorknob and then touching your face, rubbing your eyes. Other things that you can pick up from surfaces when your hands aren't clean are what we call GI bugs, or the stomach flu is another name for it. They cause vomiting and other unpleasant things that that you really don't want, and they spread really easily from person to person from touching surfaces and then not washing your hands in between and then contaminating yourself,” he said.

And you may think you're washing your hands effectively, but are you really? One of Knepper's responsibilities as the Infection Prevention Manager is making sure the healthcare professionals are at the top of their hand washing game.

"One of the things that we use to train is called 'Glow Germ.' It's a fluorescent gel. 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," he said. "You want the water to be comfortable, you don't want it to be too hot or too cold. Get your hands wet. Get soap on your hands and then you want to cover every surface, and you want to rub vigorously so that you're scrubbing off whatever bacteria, viruses, dirt, anything like that, that might be on your hands. You want to do around your thumb as well. A lot of people forget that, but you touch lots of things with your thumb."

Knepper said you should be washing your hands as often as possible.

"You should certainly wash your hands before you eat, and you should certainly wash your hands after you use the bathroom," he said.

He said washing your hands with whatever water or soap is available is better than nothing.

"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," Knepper said.

When you're done washing your hands, he said 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 that faucet off," he said.

He said to do the same when you leave the bathroom: keep that paper towel in your hand to open the door.