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Hand-washing 101

January 23, 2013
By Cheryl Rude , Marshall Independent

We've read in the newspaper and seen on the television the reports about the influenza virus spreading through the state. Hopefully, you've had your flu shot, are getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids. But are you doing your best when it comes to the most important means of preventing the spread of infection? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand-washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of infection.

Think about everything you've touched today - door handles, your keyboard on your computer, your phone, your face, your hair, etc. The list goes on and on. Our hands touch many different things all through the day. Many of the things we touch are pretty harmless, but there are things out there that can make us ill. Hand-washing is the first line of defense against the common cold, the flu, other infectious diseases and food borne illness.

Because of this, it is very important to be diligent about hand-washing. How good are you at washing your hands? The American Public Health Association has some interesting statistics about hand-washing. They report that when adults were asked if they always washed their hands after using a public bathroom, 91 percent reported that they did. However, observations showed that really only 83 percent washed their hands. What about teenagers? The Association reported that only 58 percent of teen girls and 48 percent of teen boys washed their hands after using the bathroom. It looks like there's some room for improvement.

The next question is, do you know how to do a good job of washing your hands? It's important to lather up and wash thoroughly from the front of your hands to the back, between your fingers and under your fingernails. A good hand-washing should take at least 20 seconds - long enough for you to sing a couple of choruses of "Happy Birthday!" Use disposable paper towels or a clean towel to dry your hands.

Finally, wash your hands often. Always wash before and after handling food, after you take out the garbage, after you've used the bathroom, after you've touched your face, nose or hair, before you eat, after you've petted an animal, etc. Washing your hands can have a big pay-off. In the foodservice business we know how important it is to wash our hands to prevent the spread of foodborne illness. But we can all do our part to help stop the spread of infectious diseases by being pro-active and engaging in a little prevention. As the adage says, "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at



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