In our previous Hump Day Health tip, we talked about preventing and treating the common cold. This week, I’m going to continue this theme while talking about the importance of washing your hands. This is the time of year when we are all exposed to cold and flu viruses. Viruses are typically spread by three routes: Aerosolized viruses (coughs and sneezes), direct contact with infected individuals, and contact with surfaces that infected people have touched.
Amazingly, some viruses can live for more than 24 hours on a surface. For example, there have been studies that showed cold viruses on items such as light switches and television remotes 24 hours after they were touched by a person with a cold. There is some debate as to whether these viruses are able to continue to cause colds, but the point is that preventing transmission of these viruses by hand washing is very important.
Research shows that a thorough hand washing with soap and water is still the best method to get rid of viruses. Although we all learned how to wash our hands as kids, it is likely that you are not washing your hands long enough to sufficiently protect against viruses. The Center for Disease Control recommends washing your hands for at least 20 seconds to help prevent the spread of viruses.
Additionally, research has shown that antibacterial soaps are no better than regular soap. Hand sanitizer can be a helpful alternative, when washing your hands may not be immediately possible. The foam types may be better because they leave a residue on the hands. Although both the foam and alcohol gel hand sanitizers prevent viral spread to some degree, a thorough wash with soap is the best option if possible.
Another method to preventing the spread of viruses is to avoid unnecessary, direct contact with other people. Studies have shown that a simple hand shake can transmit cold viruses. Interestingly, the popular “hand bump” has actually been shown to reduce the chance of spreading viruses when compared to a hand shake. Avoiding direct contact altogether isn’t something that’s very feasible, but it is a good idea to try to avoid a lot of unnecessary contact, especially with the larger proliferation of cold viruses this time of the year.