This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 flu pandemic. It has also been the most intense flu season in a decade including 97 infant deaths to date, including hospitalizations and numerous outpatient visits for flu-like symptoms (6.4%, which is above the national baseline of 2.2%).
While flu season is starting to wind down, it is still very important for us to continue with proper hand hygiene to keep the flu at bay.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 80 percent of all infections that make us sick are picked up and transmitted by our hands. Think about how many times in a day we touch our faces with our hands and then in between that all the touching of surfaces around us, many of which our out of our control to manage.
Hand hygiene continues to play a crucial role in germs and virus transmission and is the most cost-effective way to prevent getting sick and remains the simplest way to prevent infections.
While “best” advice and conventional wisdom includes getting a flu shot, washing hands and using hand sanitizers, just how often do we need to wash our hands or use conventional hand sanitizer to protect ourselves? The problem is that as soon as we touch the next thing, the process of recontamination resumes.
Charles Gerba (a.k.a. Dr. Germ), prominent microbiologist and professor at the University of Arizona who has studied germs for 30 years and published numerous reports, offers the following five tips:
- Wash hands regularly and thoroughly, at least a few times a day, always before and after meals and after using the bathroom. Use liquid soap dispensers as bars of soap shared by others are hotbeds for germs.
- Apply hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol, per CDC recommendations. But don’t stop there, the best hand sanitizers to choose from offer “residual efficacy,” meaning they provide instant microbial reduction and continue to protect hands from germs long after they have been applied – Zoono ULTRA GermFree24 is one such product
- Avoid using the hand dryer in public restrooms or sharing hand towels, and instead use disposable towels.
- Avoid coughing or sneezing into hands but rather in the crux of the elbow or into a tissue.
- Stay home from work if sick as it takes only about four hours for a sick person to touch enough surfaces to infect half of the office.
There are many surfaces that we come in contact daily that are out of our control including public transportation, break rooms in our work environments, table tops at restaurants, treadmills at the gym and desks in our kid’s schools. These surfaces are germy as they have been touched by many before us. We also can leave germs behind for others to pick up if our hands are not clean.
Therefore, to keep our hand clean especially between hand washings we must understand that not all sanitizers are created equal. In fact, the CDC recommends for the best results against the germs that make us sick we should use hand sanitizers that include at least 60 percent alcohol. Once it dries the next surface we touch then exposes us to a new set of germs. Therefore, seek out sanitizers that have long-lasting effectiveness and provide up to 24-hour protection, and say that specifically on the front label. These will provide a defensive barrier against germs that continues to protect the skin and offer residual protection, meaning they continue to work long after applied.
We must arm ourselves with protection on our hands, which is the easiest and most cost-effective way to prevent flu when the risks are still very high.