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Prevent Colds With Hand Washing

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Why Does Cold Prevention With Hand Washing Work?

As mentioned above, germs are often transferred to others through household objects -- telephones, doorknobs, toothbrushes, and faucet handles. But the biggest transportation center for germs is your hands. That's why frequent hand washing gets rid of the illness-causing germs and helps prevent the spread of some diseases -- especially if a family member, friend, or classmate has a cold or flu virus.

A program called "Operation Stop Cough" was begun at a military recruit training command center in Illinois. As part of this program, recruits were told to wash their hands at least five times a day. After two years, the hand-washing team reported 45% fewer cases of respiratory ailments, compared with the weekly rates of illness among recruits during the year before Operation Stop Cough started.

How Should I Wash My Hands for Cold Prevention?

Many of us get so busy, we simply forget to wash our hands properly. Here's the rundown:

  • First, wet hands with water. Then apply soap.
  • Now, rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds. Make sure to rub the wrists, between the fingers, and under the fingernails. When you have time, use a nailbrush, as bacteria often hide under nails.
  • Rinse hands thoroughly and dry with a clean paper towel or air dryer.
  • If you are in a public restroom, shut the faucet off with a paper towel. Try to push the door open with your shoulder, or use another paper towel to turn the knob.

How Much Hand Washing Is Enough to Prevent Colds?

You should wash hands frequently throughout the day -- before and after you eat, after using the bathroom, after school, and after handling any contaminants like raw meat, unwashed vegetables, or garbage.

Also wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose, or touching your pet. If you are babysitting, wash before and after changing a baby's diapers and before and after feedings.

What if I'm Not Near a Sink?

Keep an alcohol-based sanitizer for hands if a sink is unavailable. It should be at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

Rub the entire surface of your hands, fingers, and wrist with the sanitizer, until dry. You can use this throughout the day if you're not near a bathroom. Follow up with a thorough hand scrub when you're near a sink, to prevent buildup of the sanitizer.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on September 26, 2014
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