There are many ways to prevent the spread of the flu this season, and one of the simplest ways to do so is to practice what most of us were taught as children: to wash our hands.
Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself and your family from coming down with influenza, whether or not you’ve had your seasonal vaccine. Flu activity peaks between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), so now is the time you will notice more people around you coming down with the illness.
“Our number one protection against the flu is thorough handwashing with soap and clean running water,” said Linda Neuhold, Employee Health & Education Nurse and Infection Preventionist at Prowers Medical Center. “Handwashing prevents the spread of germs that cause diseases, such as the flu, from entering our bodies or transferring them to other people.”
The CDC reports that one in five respiratory infections, such as the flu or common cold, could be prevented by handwashing. Since these viruses spread easily through germs, which are everywhere from our work desks to our children’s lockers, some soap and water can work wonders in helping us stay healthy.
If you do happen to fall ill, or if you’re caring for someone who has the flu, it’s important to wash your hands more often, especially after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, Neuhold explained.
“Stay home until your fever is gone and your symptoms have decreased, as the contagious part of the flu usually lasts between five to seven days,” she said.
The Importance of Handwashing
According to a study conducted by the CDC, on average, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized each year due to flu-related infections associated with respiratory and heart conditions. In the 2017-2018 flu season, nearly 80,000 people died from the flu or a flu-related disease. Before that year, the previous high for a regular flu season was 56,000 deaths more than three decades ago, the CDC reports.
Washing your hands is easy, takes 20 seconds and helps prevent this illness from getting throughout the community.
“If hands are not cleaned properly, the germs left on your hands can be spread into your body when you touch your eyes, nose, mouth or when you prepare food or eat,” Neuhold said. “Or they can spread to other people when you touch them or touch surfaces that they may touch later.”
When and How to Wash Your Hands
Neuhold, in agreement with information from the CDC and other health entities, recommends washing your hands before and after you complete the following tasks:
- Using the toilet or changing diapers
- Preparing food
- Between handling raw, cooked or ready-to-eat food
- Using a tissue or handkerchief
- Attending to sick people
- Handling trash or working in the garden
- Touching animals
Handwashing might seem like a simple task that needs no explanation, but a study in 2018 by the United States Department of Agriculture found that consumers wash their hands incorrectly nearly 97 percent of the time. The common issue? People aren’t washing their hands long enough.
“To wash your hands properly, scrub them vigorously with soap and running water for at least 15 to 20 seconds,” Neuhold said. “Be sure to cover all surfaces — top of hands, between fingers, under fingernails and wrists. Rinse and dry thoroughly with a clean towel. If you are away from home, it is best to use liquid soap. Paper towel or air dry is fine.”
If you don’t have soap and running water nearby, using a hand sanitizer that is at least 60 percent alcohol will suffice. Scrub your hands vigorously with the product and rub them until they are completely dry.
Protect Yourself From Getting the Flu
Symptoms of the flu are similar to those of the common cold, making it difficult to determine which illness you have. A general rule of thumb: the flu comes on faster, hits hard and lasts longer, but if you’re unsure, you can always visit with your Provider. According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of seasonal influenza include a sudden fever over 100 degrees, dry coughing, muscle and joint pain, headaches, a sore throat and/or a runny nose.
“The best thing you can do to prevent getting the flu is to get a flu shot,” Neuhold concluded. “Also get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water and try to stay away from people that are sick.”
For more information or to schedule an appointment for a flu vaccine at Prowers Medical Center Clinic, call 719-336-6767. The vaccine is available throughout the flu season, and patients can either schedule an appointment or walk into the Clinic between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.