Chicago Health | Homepage
Keeping hands consistently clean one of the best ways to avoid getting sick

Keeping hands consistently clean one of the best ways to avoid getting sick

Mayo Clinic Q&A

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I’ve heard many times that handwashing is the best way to prevent illness. But how often is it enough? I have small children, and I want to keep them as healthy as possible. Is hand sanitizer a good alternative to soap and water?

ANSWER: You’re correct that frequent handwashing is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick and to keep from spreading any illness you may have to someone else. There’s no magic number for how often you should wash. Just try to make sure your hands are consistently clean. Soap and water always work well. But if you don’t have access to a sink, hand sanitizer is a good choice, too.

Bacteria, viruses and other germs surround us every day and live in the same environments we do. As you touch objects, surfaces and other people, germs can be transferred to your hands. When you then touch your eyes, your nose or your mouth, the germs can get inside your body and potentially make you sick. Cleaning your hands gets rids of the germs, lowering your risk for illness.

Although there isn’t a specific number of times you should clean your hands each day, there are certain situations where cleaning your hands is essential. Make sure you, and your children, always clean your hands before you eat, after you use the bathroom, and after you come in contact with surfaces that are likely to be contaminated with germs.

When people think of areas in the home where the most germs live, bathrooms usually comes to mind first. Although handwashing after using the bathroom is important, you’re actually more likely to pick up germs that can make you sick in your kitchen.

That’s because certain foods, before they are cooked, tend to harbor harmful bacteria, particularly chicken, fish and other meats. When you work with those foods in your kitchen, they can contaminate the surrounding surfaces. Cleaning your hands thoroughly before and after you prepare foods, along with thoroughly cleaning your kitchen countertops, can go a long way to cutting down on the number of germs you carry on your hands.

Washing with soap and water is a quick and easy way to get your hands clean. You may want to avoid antibacterial soap, though. Antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. Using antibacterial soap might even lead to the development of bacteria that are resistant to the product’s antimicrobial agents — making it harder to kill those germs in the future.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizer works just as well as soap and water for cleaning your hands, as long as your hands aren’t visibly dirty. For example, if you’ve been gardening or working on a motor vehicle, then you do need soap and water. For most other situations, hand sanitizer is fine.

Put about a quarter-sized amount of the sanitizer on your hands and work it in, covering all the surfaces. When the alcohol is dry, which takes about 15 to 20 seconds, your hands are clean. If you’re cleaning your hands quite often during the day, hand sanitizer may actually be a better choice than soap and water because the sanitizers usually have moisturizers added to them, so they tend to be gentler on your hands than soap and water.

Getting into the habit of cleaning your hands regularly can have significant benefits. Studies have shown that in communities where children are encouraged to wash their hands often, illnesses and absenteeism in schools goes down, and the risk of getting diarrhea or getting a respiratory infection is reduced by about 30 percent. Although it may seem like a small task, taking time to make sure your hands are clean can make a big difference for your health. — Priya Sampathkumar, M.D., Infectious Diseases, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

(Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to MayoClinicQ&A@mayo.edu. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.)

(c) 2016 MAYO FOUNDATION FOR MEDICAL EDUCATION AND RESEARCH. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

Similar Articles

Brain Boosts

Brain Boosts

Nourish Your Noggin with Lifestyle Changes By Laura Drucker Your brain needs to be well fueled, exercised and nurtured

Count ingredients, not calories

Count ingredients, not calories

By Sharon Palmer, R.D.N. Shift your focus from the calories label to the ingredients label, and

Pneumonia a leading cause of hospitalization for children

Pneumonia a leading cause of hospitalization for children

What Doctors Know Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Pneumonia puts thousands of young children

Cartilage repair, restoration becoming more common

Cartilage repair, restoration becoming more common

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I recently heard about cartilage being used in knee joints. Last summer

Discovering need to treat high blood pressure may be too late

Discovering need to treat high blood pressure may be too late

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham whatdoctorsknow.com Untreated high blood pressure, or hypertension, wreaks havoc on the

Articles By Category

Family Health

In The Know

CH Lifestyle

September 2016
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
August 28, 2016 August 29, 2016 August 30, 2016 August 31, 2016 September 1, 2016 September 2, 2016 September 3, 2016
September 4, 2016 September 5, 2016 September 6, 2016 September 7, 2016 September 8, 2016 September 9, 2016 September 10, 2016
September 11, 2016 September 12, 2016 September 13, 2016 September 14, 2016 September 15, 2016 September 16, 2016 September 17, 2016
September 18, 2016 September 19, 2016 September 20, 2016 September 21, 2016 September 22, 2016 September 23, 2016 September 24, 2016
September 25, 2016 September 26, 2016 September 27, 2016 September 28, 2016 September 29, 2016 September 30, 2016 October 1, 2016

Categories

Recent Comments

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Swing for the fences in the fight to Sideline Pancreatic Cancer

Enjoy a great night of baseball at Peoples Natural

VIEW ARTICLE
Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

Cost to give birth 1943 - Page 3 - Defending The Truth Political Forum

A Hazy Shade of Healthcare: What does tort reform

VIEW ARTICLE

Archives