Dr. Vicki Rackner

Article Summary:

Hand washing tips that are good for EVERY day but especially flu season.

Hand Washing Tips for the Flu Season

You might be wondering, "Will there, by some miracle, be enough flu vaccines so I can get one?" I offer you another medical intervention that's nothing less than miraculous for preventing colds and flues. It's so easy even a child can do it. It's practically free, and it has almost no risks.

Sounds like one of those ridiculous snake oil claims too good to be true, but this is the real deal. It's hand washing.

Washing your hands is the single most important thing you can do to keep yourself healthy, especially during cold and flu season. Even though it's not high-tech, it's highly effective.

Every surface that you touch from counters to door handles to books to money is teeming with bacteria and viruses. In fact, many viruses can live for long periods of time on a dry, warm surface. As you touch these surfaces, the germs adhere to your hands. Then when you touch you nose or mouth or rub your eyes, you transport the germs into an environment that is perfect for them to grow and multiply.

Hand washing with soap and water is a mechanical process that removes the viruses and bacteria from the surface of your hands. It is very effective at preventing diseases transmitted by germs.

Ask anyone you know and they will tell you that, of course, they wash their hands. Especially after they use the bathroom. But do they?

A group of researchers from Wirthin Worldwide performed an experiment sponsored by the American Society of Microbiology. First, Wirthin surveyed over 1,000 people on the telephone. Over 95% of people say they wash their hands after using a public restroom.

Then the researchers parked themselves in the bathrooms and found that up to 30% of the 7500 patrons studied did not wash. Could this explain why travelers get those colds?

The critical role of hand washing in the prevention of infection is a relatively modern idea. During the Civil War, more lives were lost to infection than on the battleground. In the mid-1800s Dr. Ignac Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician, made a revolutionary recommendation. At that time, one in four women whose babies were delivered by doctors at a hospital in Vienna died of childbed fever. He observed that the death rate was highest among doctors who did internal exams on women after working in the morgue. He concluded that the doctors were carrying some sort of particle, now understood to be bacteria, that they transmitted to their patients. After doctors routinely wash their hands in chlorine solution, the death rate dropped from 25% to below 1%. His recommendation saved the lives of millions.

Surgeons have elevated hand washing into a ritual that's as complex as a formal tea ceremony. You don't need to do that; just rub soap on your hands for the amount of time it takes to sing the ABC song.

Skip the antibiotic soap. Bacteria divide quickly and reshuffle their DNA to create another strain of bacteria resistant to the soap that's even more capable of making you sick. And most colds and flu are caused by viruses, which antibiotic soaps will not touch.

Whether or not you get the flu vaccine this year, make sure to take advantage of this medical miracle that's in your hands.

Dr. Vicki is a board-certified surgeon who left the operating room to help families take the most direct path from illness to optimal health. Her book, "The Personal Health Journal", will help you understand and direct your loved one's health story. Empower yourself with the tips and tools that will help you partner with their doctor more effectively & save your loved one's life at www.drvicki.org.

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