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Warding Off the Crud—The Importance of Good Hand Hygiene

You may be thinking that this is a simplistic and unimportant topic to be focusing on, but in fact hand hygiene is one of our most effective defenses against illness. We are at the brink of the respiratory infection season and it’s important to prepare ourselves and our little, big fighters to ensure a fun and healthy fall and winter.

Multiple studies have shown that handwashing is an effective way of protecting against respiratory and gastrointestinal viral infections. The benefits of hand washing have been documented as far back as the mid-19th century when Ignaz Semmelweis, also known as the “savior of mothers”, proposed that hand washing could drastically cut down mortality rates in hospitals and went on to prove it! Unfortunately, Semmelweis was berated for his handwashing hypothesis! In all honesty it is still a struggle to encourage healthy hand hygiene as a daily routine.

We are all busy people with a lot on our minds and our children are busy and adventurous, so what does a doable “healthy hand hygiene habit” look like? The main principle is easy: wash often. Some easy and proven steps to follow are:

  1. To wash with soap and water whenever available and to use an alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t an option.
    • A quick side note here is that sanitizers do not kill all pathogens (i.e. cryptosporidium, norovirus, and c.diff, which can all cause diarrheal illnesses), so if there is concern for any of these, soap and water must be used. These are commonly acquired at daycares, so make sure to be diligent with the handwashing in these environments.
  2. When washing your hands, make sure to wash for long enough and to wash the backs of your hands and in between your fingers (these are the areas most frequently missed).
  3. Wash for a whole 10 seconds! Warm water doesn’t necessarily get more germs off, but it does help you to wash for the whole 10 seconds. Teaching kids a song to sing can make it easier for them to remember how long to wash.
  4.  The more the better! 
  5. Wash your hands:
  • When you arrive for the day or when you move from one group of children to another
  • Before and after you eat or prepare or handle food
  • Before and after you feed an infant or give medicine
  • After you touch pets/animals, garbage, or sand in sandboxes
  • After you have been cleaning
  • After you change a diaper or help a child with toileting
  • After you wipe a nose or touch a mouth, sore, or any bodily fluids

When you leave for the day be an example for children! For some reason children think adults are the coolest (little do they know…). Therefore, they are constantly watching and learning, so even with something as simple as good hand hygiene can be a lasting lesson that they learn from you.

With this viral season starting to rev up, let’s make the conscious effort to keep the viruses from penetrating our body’s biggest defense mechanism, our skin! Keep up with the good hand hygiene this fall and winter!.

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.