As the holiday season approaches, the number of people coming down with colds or the flu is quickly rising. Getting your flu shot is, without a doubt, the best way to protect yourself from getting the flu virus. There is also one specific healthy habit that can help keep germs away – handwashing!
The CDC says handwashing can reduce the risk of respiratory infections by 16 percent. It’s also effective in reducing foodborne disease outbreaks and other infections. However, a 2018 study found 95 percent of people aren’t washing their hands correctly and effectively.
The Bon Secours St. Francis Health System recently teamed up with Greenville County Schools for a quick and fun lesson in hand hygiene. Our infection prevention team spent the morning at Welcome Elementary School playing games and teaching students the proper way to wash their hands.
“You should be washing your hands 15 to 20 seconds,” explains Courtney Wright, infection prevention team member. “For kids, it’s easier to give them something fun to do rather than a time frame. For instance, the time it takes you to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ or even ‘Row, Row Your Boat’ is about the amount of time you should spend washing your hands.”
In the first game, students put on gloves and a dab of red paint was placed in their hands. They were then asked to close their eyes and sing “Happy Birthday” as they pretended to wash their hands.
Once students finished singing, they opened their eyes to see the paint covering their hands – with the more coverage, the better. This activity also allowed kids to easily see the areas of their hands they missed and need to pay closer attention to next time they’re at the sink.
“The most often missed spots are the thumb on your dominant hand, the back of your hands, and in between your fingers,” says Elizabeth Hitt, an infection prevention specialist.
A second game involved passing around a stuffed animal covered in Glow Germ™, a powder that’s invisible to the naked eye, but shows up under a black light. Using the black light, each student was able to see how simply touching the stuffed animal led to the powder showing up on their hands, arms, faces and even clothes.
“This game really shows how fast and easily germs can spread,” says Elizabeth.
Soap and water are the best option for washing your hands. If those are not easily accessible, hand sanitizer is a good second option. Be sure to wash your hands before and after eating, after using the restroom, after sneezing and after playing outside. Also, when coughing, try to cough into your elbow rather than your hands.
Have more questions about cold and flu season? Find a Bon Secours primary care physician near you.