Germs, Germs, Go Away: Hand Hygiene - My Family Travels

If you don't think hand-washing warrants a three-page report, after reading this you may want to sanitize the computer mouse you're using.If you don't think hand-washing warrants a three-page report, after reading this you may want to sanitize the computer mouse you're using.

In a report released by FluView, the week of November 22-28, 2009 brought about a decline in flu activity, as the number of United States reporting doctor visits for influenza-like illnesses dropped from 35 to 32. However, FluView reports that it is the ninth consecutive week that the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza has been above the epidemic threshold. 

Perhaps this achievement can be attributed to the results found in the Soap and Detergent Association’s (SDA) recent findings.

Hand Washing Scorecard for U.S.

The organization’s Clean Hands Report Card this year rated America at a “B-minus,” a step up from last year’s results. Details in the Report Card showed that half of the 888 surveyed in August 2009 said they washed their hands more than 10 times per day – a marginal increase from the previous year.

70% said they washed hands at least seven times per day. Unfortunately, a mere 26% reported that they washed hands after coughing / sneezing, unfortunate because it means 74% contributed to the leading cause of spreading illnesses such as the H1N1 virus.

Hand Washing Scores Kept in U.K.

In comparison, a report by of hand hygiene in the United Kingdom found that out of 4,000 surveyed, ages 16-65, 65% of Brits were reported to skip washing hands altogether after coughing / sneezing. The survey also found that 4 out of 10 do not wash their hands after arriving at work or at the end of the day, and 30% neglect to wash their hands after using the toilet. (The SDA’s report showed a promising increase in Americans claiming to always wash their hands after using the bathroom.)

The report stated that the number one city for the dirtiest hands was Bristol, whose citizens averaged 38 hours and 24 minutes without washing their mitts. Edinburgh came in close behind and London ranked in 7th place. The clean-hand capital, York, averaged 19 hours for going without hand-washing.



Everybody, let's wash hands the right way!

According to the CDC, 80% of all diseases are passed on by human contact, including virsuses like pneumonia and the common cold. And it's not only important to be mindful of the importance of washing hands, the CDC reports, but also how to do so properly.

Nearly half of those surveyed for the Clean Hands Report stated that they wash their hands for 15 seconds or less, while both the SDA and CDC recommend that hand-washing last for at least 15 to 20 seconds. While it might not be a good idea to go wash-happy every five minutes leading to a serious case of OCD, there are certain times where it’s wise to get a good scrub-on:

  • Before and after preparing food, especially poultry and meat products
  • Before and after meals and snacks
  • After using the restroom (This goes for at home, too!)
  • After petting or interacting with animals
  • After any hand-dirtying activity (It may be obvious, but even after playing at the park or gardening with the little one, it’s good to get those paws cleaned immediately)
  • Any time you or someone around you is ill

When washing those digits, have a solid technique down, so that washing properly will become second-hand nature. Here’s a quick refresher course to proper hand hygiene:

  1. Run warm water over your hands
  2. Using liquid or bar soap, rub your hands together to make a lather
  3. Make sure to get the soap everywhere (on your hands, that is, though kids will undoubtedly do otherwise) and keep in mind the 15-20 second rule. If it helps, sing the “Happy Birthday” song while doing so.
  4. Rinse hands under warm water and then dry thoroughly with a clean towel or air dryer

Consider carrying a bottle of hand sanitizer or cleansing towels (WetOnes are great and handy to use) for when facilities are not available.

Germ Avoidance without Phobias

Knowing how and when to wash are important, but equally important are techniques on avoiding contact with the gazillion germs out there harboring harmful viruses like H1N1.

Germs can be found anywhere. ATM keypads harbor virsuses like MRSA, staph aureus and even feces, while women's handbags, purses and clutches have been discovered to be able to harbor E. Coli and salmonella. Bus seats and seats in the tube system of London can contain more than three million bacteria of up to 70 different types, including tuberculosis, according to the CDC.

Being prepared to disinfect when such situations are unavoidable is equally important. Passport Health has come out with some helpful tips of its own for both those at home and those out and about:

  • Regularly clean disinfect your bathroom and kitchen. Also stock these rooms with soap and paper towels.
  • Keep your home well ventilated to make sure that fresh air is circulating.
  • Wipe surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails and phones with chlorine-based products.
  • Avoid large crowds and leave crowds if you observe someone who demonstrates flu symptoms.
  • If you are symptomatic, stay at home away from large crowds and your workplace.
  • Wear a surgical mask if you find yourself in an area where and outbreak has been detected or when traveling on airplanes.
  • If you cough or sneeze, use a tissue or cough into your arm; avoid contact with your hands. Wash with soap and hot water or alcohol sanitizers to avoid transmission of the virus.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
  • Lastly and most obviously, wash your hands and do it properly!

Common Courtesies make for Better Health

If you or your child do exhibit the symptoms of the H1N1 flu – fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, lethargy, headache, chills and fatigue – see a doctor right away and stay out of public places, such as school or work.

Avoid public places for at least 24 hours even after the symptoms have gone away. A red flag should immediately go up if you notice your child is having difficulty breathing or demonstrates fast breathing. CDC-recommended anti-viral drugs that may be suggest by your doctor include oseltamivir (brand name, Tamiflu) and zanamivir (brand name, Relenze).

With reports inundating the web and physician's offices on how to avoid illnesses and lead a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to not go overboard with our healthy practices. Check out this doctor’s advice on healthy habits that may be actually making you sick.

For more helpful tips and survey statistics or information on the H1N1 virus, visit or call at 800/CDC-INFO. You can also email questions or concerns at [email protected]. Another great resource for travelers can be found at Passport Health or by calling at 888/499-PASS.


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