• August 10, 2020

CATES: The best defense against infection - Odessa American: People

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CATES: The best defense against infection

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Posted: Monday, March 16, 2020 4:00 am

The last few weeks it has been a bit of a challenge to write this column because the predominant health topic out there is the Coronavirus, now more formally known as the illness COVID-19. COVID-19 in and of itself isn’t that hard to write about, but because things are changing so quickly with COVID-19, the amount of time that passes between when I write and when it is published can mean the information I give is likely to be out-of-date by the time it is read.

One thing, however, that has not changed with COVID-19 and also applies to every other contagious disease I can think of, is the best defense is handwashing.

I can’t remember when my Mom and Dad taught me to wash my hands. It was so long ago and I was so small, but I know they did it. When I was working as a junior volunteer in the hospital in high school, I had to take a handwashing class and do a demonstration.

Then when I became a certified nurse assistant, I had to demonstrate again, that happened again in my licensed vocational nursing (LVN) training, and in my registered nurse (RN) education, too. Every time I have gone to school for a more advanced certification or degree in a health-related field, handwashing is revisited.

Regulators are expecting that handwashing surveys and recurrent handwashing training is part of our quality control system. Over the course of my career, I have done some sort of handwashing demonstration or training at a minimum of every few months for years, and everyone I know in healthcare gets the same treatment and has the same expectations placed on them in regard to handwashing. Yet, disappointingly, people with all that education and frequent reminders don’t always wash their hands as they should.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that healthcare providers wash their hands less than half of the times they should on average. If people who know and are educated about handwashing on a regular basis aren’t washing their hands enough, I think it’s a pretty good guess that the average person doesn’t wash their hands as they should either. To get good results from handwashing, two things must be considered: when to wash hands, and how to wash hands.

There are many times when you should be washing your hands and teaching your loved ones to wash their hands: before, during, and after preparing food; before eating food; before and after caring for someone at home who is sick; 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, and after touching garbage.

You also should consider handwashing after touching objects that are handled frequently and may not be cleaned regularly, i.e. cell phones, remote controls, light switches, doorknobs, and keyboards.

How you wash your hands is equally as important as the when. Handwashing has five critical steps according to the CDC. 1) Wet your hands with clean running water (temperature is less important than that the water is clean and running) 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. Humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice will take about 20 seconds if you need a timer. 4) Rinse your hands using clean running water. 5) Dry your hands with a paper towel and then use the paper towel to turn off the water.

If you are in a public space like a restroom, it’s a good practice to use a paper towel to open the door too. If you can’t find soap and water, a good alternative is hand sanitizer.

If you are purchasing hand sanitizer, make sure you choose one that is at least 60 percent alcohol. Use the same technique for scrubbing your hands with sanitizers. Get enough gel/liquid/foam in your hands to scrub for at least 20 seconds before it dries and make sure you cover all hand surfaces — don’t forget to rub between your fingers and under nails.

Remember that hand sanitizers don’t kill all types of germs (though they do work well with Coronavirus) and they are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy, so washing with soap and water is always the best option when it’s available.

Recommendations about the Coronavirus are changing frequently. Please make sure you are staying up-to-date so you have the best options for keeping yourself and your loved ones healthy. Please remember the when’s and how’s of handwashing and practice those rules — it is and will always be your best defense against COVID-19 and any other contagious illness.

Finally, remind others you interact with — particularly those of us in healthcare — to wash their hands, too.

Odessa, TX

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