Saturday, October 17, 2009

Flu and Hand Washing

Once again the media is full of stories about the lack of flu vaccine, increasing deaths among children from H1N1 (Swine flu) and even notices of flu vaccine clinics being cancelled.

There are very simple things people can do to reduce their risk of getting the flu, or if they have it, transmitting it to someone else.

The most basic preventive measure is hand washing. Sounds simple enough, but does the temperature of the water make a difference? The New York Times recently ran a piece on this topic. The bottom line is that “Hot water for hand washing has not been proved to remove germs better than cold water.” What is important is washing your hands with soap, for at least 20 seconds-long enough to sing two rounds of Happy Birthday.

If there isn’t access to soap and water, the next best thing is alcohol based hand sanitizer. They need to contain a concentration of 60% or higher to be effective. Keep in mind that hand sanitizers are less effective if hands are visibly dirty. When using the sanitizers, wash hands until all of the liquid is absorbed or up to 25 seconds.

Liquid soap is recommended over bar soap, particularly in public areas. However, antibacterial soap is no more effective at killing germs than regular soap. Using antibacterial soap has the potential to create a bacteria that becomes resistant.

In addition to the normal hand washing required after using the toilet, before cooking etc., it is important to wash your hands when you come in contact with items other people might have used. Many grocery stores now provide wipes to clean cart handles. Computer key boards are a particularly great place to pick up something, so keep wipes handy.

Other flu prevention measures include:
• Cover your mouth and nose every time you cough or sneeze. Use your arm, not your hand

• Observe regular cleaning habits at home, office, school, church and where you recreate

• If you experience any symptoms of flu (cough, fever, aches, headache, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, chills) and were in contact with someone who has it, or was in a location where the disease has already occurred, call your medical provider

• Every time you use a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.

• Be mindful of what you are doing. Don’t share anything that goes into the mouth. Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes.

• Avoid contact with people who are sick.

• Stay home if you are sick.

• Get a vaccination when it becomes available, recognizing that there are two this year-one for regular flu and a second one for H1N1 (Swine Flu).

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