(ARA) - For most of us, the worst part about the winter season is that it?s also flu season. Every year, the flu costs Americans approximately $10 billion in lost wages and medical expenditures. Make sure you and your loved ones are taking the proper steps to stay healthy throughout the cooler months.
One of the most effective methods for preventing the spread of disease-causing bacteria and other germs is a simple act most of us perform everyday: washing our hands. What we don't do is perform this act properly or often enough. Schools are large breeding grounds for cold and flu viruses and studies have shown that children who wash their hands more frequently tend to get sick less often. Practicing good hand-washing habits can provide an effective extra line of defense for you and everyone around you.
?Common cold, flu and stomach viruses for example, can live on the fingertips for hours, and they can survive on the surfaces of objects for days,? says Dr. Philip M. Tierno Jr., author of ?The Secret Life of Germs? (Pocket Books Nov. 2001). ?Bacterial infections can be treated with antibiotics, but for the most part viral infections simply have to run their course.?
Therefore, the best way to avoid such illnesses is to prevent them from ever occurring. Dr. Tierno recommends the following hand-washing regimen:
* Effective hand washing requires both soap and water. Merely rinsing the hands with water alone is next to useless
* Wet your hands thoroughly and lather them with soap
* Rub the soapy water all over the hands and fingers for at least 20 to 30 seconds
* Don't forget to wash under fingernails
* Rinse and repeat
As for frequency, you should wash your hands several times a day, before eating, after using a bathroom facility and after coughing or sneezing on them. After shaking hands with someone, you should avoid touching your face or mouth until an opportunity presents itself to wash up. It also makes sense to wash whenever coming in from outside.
In public bathrooms, you should wash your hands before using the toilet if you have had to touch a doorknob or other surface on the way in. When you wash your hands afterward, use a paper towel or tissue to shut off the faucet and open the door. Dr. Tierno also recommends the use of tissues over handkerchiefs, which according to him tend to become ?germ reservoirs? as we tend to hold on to them even after we?ve used them to blow our noses.
For an added layer of protection, use an anti-bacterial soap containing a germicide such as Triclosan. According to Dr. Tierno, ?It seems to me that germicides can be a valuable support to good health, especially for groups who are at extra risk when it comes to infectious diseases. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with depressed immune systems are particularly vulnerable. While germicides are no substitute for conscientious hygiene, they fight bacteria, have no side effects and have not been shown to contribute to increased bacterial resistance.?
Even if you don't fall into one of the higher risk groups, you owe it to others to be more conscious of hand washing to avoid transmitting germs. Also, habits are best formed early on. If there are any children in your home, take the time to set a good example and teach them how to wash their hands properly.
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