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Want to Stay Healthy? Try Washing Your Hands

Dirty digits are the fastest way to communicate infectious germs, experts say

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Do you need to use antibacterial soap?

"Soap and water are a good solution for dirty hands," Pittman said. "Any soap has ingredients that break the cells of the bacteria, killing them." And, if there's no soap or water available, "use an alcohol-based sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol -- although these products aren't as effective if hands are visibly soiled," she said.

Do some soaps clean better than others? Should they contain specific ingredients?

Any soap will do, said Pittman.

Does a quick rinse do anything for your hands?

A quick rinse won't clean your hands. Rather, Morano said, washing for a while with soap is what gets your hands clean.

Isn't exposure to some bacteria supposed to be good for you, because it builds up resistance?

"Exposure to small amounts of germs is probably good for you, but it's unsafe to play with a jar of salmonella," Morano said. "That dose is higher than the body can deal with."

What Morano means is that no one needs to go out of their way to be exposed to germs. Everyone encounters a significant number of microbes throughout the day, and the immune system is constantly being challenged. As he said, you don't need to add to the challenge by not washing your hands.

Do hands need to be washed after gardening?

The CDC recommends washing your hands after gardening, even if you were wearing gloves, because there are bacteria and parasites in some areas of soil.

Can you get sick from touching a pet?

Morano said that you probably can't get sick by touching your pet, but if you touch your sick pet and then don't wash up before touching another pet, you could transfer germs to that pet and it could get sick.

Can you wash your hands too much?

Not really, said Pittman. But, if you're in a job like nursing where you have to wash your hands many, many times a day, your skin can get dried out and may even crack, she said. And Morano added that a crack in the skin is "like a microbe freeway" -- it gives germs direct access into your body from your hands.

To counteract this, Pittman recommended using moisturizing soap and also applying moisturizing lotion repeatedly throughout the day. "It's OK to put lotion on after you wash your hands, but you still need to wash your hands at the recommended times," she said.

When is it important to wash your hands?

Both experts said that it's crucial to wash your hands any time you use the bathroom and definitely before you start cooking or doing any kind of food preparation. Washing hands during food preparation is particularly important when you're working with raw meat, poultry or eggs. If you're taking care of someone who's sick, be sure to wash your hands more than you normally would, and wash your hands after you change a diaper, said Pittman. Whenever you're sick, wash your hands after you sneeze or cough into your hands. And wash your hands after you take out the garbage, she said. Also wash, your hands after feeding pets or giving them treats, as well as after you clean up pet waste.

"Don't be shy about asking anyone taking care of you or a loved one if they've washed their hands," Pittman said, noting that this includes doctors and other health-care providers.

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