Posted on: March 15, 2020 at 10:52 pm

Every year come cold and flu season, health officials, hospitals, and health care clinics release statement after statement with the same message: Wash. Your. Hands. 

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With coronavirus hysteria sweeping the nation, the 2019-2020 cold and flu season has been particularly traumatic, and the medical community has been even more emphatic with their messaging. 

As the virus continues to spread, it is becoming increasingly important that everyone is diligent with their own hygiene, since proper handwashing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs.

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People all over the world are posting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter about the importance of handwashing, in an attempt to spread awareness about the crucial practice. Actress Kristen Bell has joined in, with an Instagram post showing just how effective handwashing is.

The Photos Say it All

Bell recently shared a series of photos sent to her by her mother on her Instagram page, showing her hands at different stages of cleanliness. 

Bell’s mother’s hands were covered in a cream called Glo-Germ, which is a mineral oil that simulates germs and is only visible under a UV light, which illuminated how much dirt was on her hands, even though they appeared clean to the naked eye.

There were six photos in total, starting with unwashed hands and ending with hands that had been washed for thirty seconds with soap. The differences between the photos were striking. There was a marked change between a six-second wash with soap and a fifteen-second wash with soap, and again between a fifteen-second wash and a thirty-second wash.

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Bell posted the photos with the caption “30 SECONDS WITH SOAP YALL!” [1].

Related: How to Prep For a Quarantine

Handwashing in America

Despite all of the warnings from health officials, it appears that Americans are not all that vigilant when it comes to proper hand-washing. 

In fact, 34 percent of Americans do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. That equals out to about 73 million people. But it’s not just frequency that’s the problem- its the method as well. Out of the remaining 66 percent that do wash their hands, 99.2 million did not use soap [2].

Statistics show that more than seventy percent of Americans wash their hands for less than twenty seconds at a time [3].

Back in 2013, researchers from Michigan State University stationed themselves in public restrooms to evaluate the handwashing practices of the general population, and the results weren’t great.

The researchers found that only five percent of people actually washed their hands long enough to kill germs and bacteria [4]. These findings came as a shock, even to the authors of the study.

“These findings were surprising to us because past research suggested that proper hand washing is occurring at a much higher rate,” said Carl Borchgrevink, an associate professor of hospitality business at Michigan State University in East Lansing [4].

There also appears to be a gender gap. According to Business Insider, 65 percent of women who participated in their poll reported washing their hands as a way to prevent the spread of germs, while only 52 percent of men said the same [5].

Related: China’s Coronavirus did Come from Bats, Study Claims

The Importance of Handwashing

Handwashing is arguably our greatest defense against the spread of infectious diseases. Researchers in London have estimated that routine handwashing could prevent a million deaths per year [6].

This is because there are millions of bacteria on or in our bodies at any time that could be passed to other people. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than fifty percent of healthy people have Staphylococcus aureus living on or in their nasal passages, throats, hair, or skin [7].

Can Sanitizer Replace Hand Washing?

The short answer is no. While sanitizer is better than nothing at all when a sink is not available, it does not as effective as properly lathering with soap and water.

Business Insider did their own UV light experiment comparing a thirty-second hand wash to using sanitizer, and the results were clear. The main issue with hand sanitizer is that it doesn’t actually wash the bacteria off your hands, it simply neutralizes it, which means it could resurge later [1].

Related: Expert Warns Coronavirus Could Infect 60% of World’s Population

How to Properly Wash Your Hands

First of all, it is important to make sure you are washing your hands frequently. The CDC recommends you wash your hands during the following key times:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed, or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

As for proper handwashing technique, the CDC recommends following these five steps:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them [8].

With more and more cases of COVID-19 being reported every day, it is imperative that everyone does their part to prevent its spread. Washing your hands is a simple and easy way you can keep you, your family, and those at higher risk safe.

Keep Reading: How to Distinguish between the Coronavirus and Flu

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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