Friday, February 19, 2021

Encouragement For Stressful Times - Wash Your Hands Like A Pro!

 In addition to masking appropriately and maintaining social distancing, proper hand hygiene is an essential step in preventing the spread of disease.   Pathogens can be found on surfaces everywhere and it is impossible to completely eradicate them.   Just as with masking, the goal of hand hygiene is to reduce the numbers of pathogens.   Remember that a factor in developing an infection is the number of pathogens so by taking steps to reduce them we are reducing our risk of infection. 

It is always important to practice proper hand hygiene but there has been more emphasis on that since the pandemic and people are particularly concerned with the Covid-19 pathogen.   So let’s talk specifically about how hand washing can help reduce the spread of covid.    

Coronavirus is the term you most often hear when discussing Covid-19 but the term coronavirus is a description of the microscopic appearance of several different disease-causing organisms.   Corona means crown and the spikes of proteins surrounding the virus give the appearance of a crown when viewed under the microscope.   For simplicity’s sake when coronavirus is referenced in this post, we are specifically referring to the new strain of coronavirus which is responsible for the current pandemic.   Viruses are essentially little bits of genetic material with various materials forming protective coats around them.   The coronavirus has a lipid envelope which means a layer of fatty material around it.   Because of this fatty layer, soap is very effective in destroying the virus as it is able to break up the protective lipid membrane of the virus.     Regular soap is effective so it is not necessary to get special soap.    

Proper hand hygiene using soap and water 

  • Make sure a towel is located nearby. 
  • Turn on faucet and adjust the temperature so that it is warm but not too hot 
  • Keeping the hands lower than the elbows, thoroughly wet the wrist and hands 
  • Dispense soap into hands, using about 1 tsp soap should be used 
  • Scrubbing in circular motion, lather hands including wrists and the area between fingers.  Make sure to scrub the fingertips as well.  Get the backs of the hands and the thumbs.   Cover each finger individually including around the nails and the knuckles.   Go around the wrists up to about an inch above the wrists.  Make sure you keep your hands angled so that any drips go down into the sink, not up the arm.   This process must take at least 20 seconds.   (There were many entertaining memes at the beginning of the pandemic on social media for theme songs and the like designed to take up 20 seconds) 
  • Place hands under water, make sure water flows downward from wrists to fingertips 
  • Pat hands dry with towel, don’t scrub with towel 
  • Use a dry towel to turn off faucet 


Hand sanitizer is another good tool for hand hygiene.   There are some important points to be aware of when using hand sanitizer.   The CDC recommends at least 60% alcohol content to effectively kill pathogens.   Most of the sanitizers I’ve seen are 65% but read the label to be sure.   The alcohol should be ethanol or isopropanol (rubbing alcohol).   You may remember a big recall on sanitizer products during the summer because those products contained methanol which is very toxic.   Hand sanitizer does not replace hand washing as the chemicals in sanitizer may kill some pathogens but they do not remove dirt and greasy messes so they cannot clean as effectively as soap.   It is interesting to note that the rhinovirus that causes colds is in fact not as susceptible to soap so hand sanitizer may work better for removing rhinovirus.   It should still be followed by soap and water hand washing. 

Hand hygiene using hand sanitizer 

  • Dispense sanitizer into palm of hand 

  • Rub palm to palm 

  • Right hand palm to back of left hand, interlock fingers 

  • Palm to palm fingers interlaced 

  • Left hand palm to back of right hand, interlocking fingers 

  • Grasp thumb and rotate around thumb, perform on right and left sides 

  • Rub fingertips in palm of left and then right hand 

  • Continue this process until hands have dried.  The alcohol will evaporate leaving the hands dry 

Keep in mind that alcohol-based sanitizers will dry out the skin even more than soap so make sure you keep your hands properly moisturized.   Any breaks in the skin can serve as an entry point for pathogens.   

You should perform hand hygiene before and after eating, after using the restroom, after coming in from outside, after playing with pets and any time that they are dirty.