Hand Hygiene and Respiratory Etiquette

Just Say No to Nasty Germs

Stay Healthy with These Simple Steps to Reduce Illnesses

by Sue Deal, RN

Infection Control Nurse, Marshall Medical Center

As an infection control specialist for a hospital, it is my job to know all about germs and how to keep the nasty things from making us sick.

When it comes to germs, the statistics about how common they are can be shocking; but perhaps equally surprising is how easy it is to keep germs at bay and keep you and your family healthy.

Consider some of these icky facts:

  • Viruses can live a few hours to several days on surfaces, but some bacteria can live for months outside the human body.
  • Bacteria can double every 20 minutes. Five bacteria in a sandwich at noon can total over 10 million by 7 p.m., if that sandwich was left out and not refrigerated.
  • A person has more bacteria on their body than there are people in the United States.
  • There are 229,000 germs per square inch on frequently used faucet handles.
  • 1,500 germs on each square centimeter of a hand
  • The "germiest" places? Public bus handrails, followed by playground equipment and grocery cart handles.

Now, some good news. Simple hygiene measures can control germs and keep you from getting sick from other people’s germs – and vice versa. Washing your hands regularly or using hand sanitizer are very effective. In fact:

  • In a study, 304 Detroit students washed their hands four times a day while at school. Those children had 24% fewer colds and 51% fewer stomach upsets than other children.
  • A Minnesota daycare started having teachers help children wash their hands upon arrival each morning. The result? 50% fewer illnesses.

It’s especially important to clean your hands before handling food, before touching your face and after using the bathroom. Take advantage of the increasingly available supplies of hand sanitizing gels and wipes at public places, including grocery stores, and here at Marshall.

Another important factor in staying healthy is practicing what we know as "respiratory etiquette". It’s simple – when you cough or sneeze and use your hands as a shield, you’re getting those germs on your hands. Before doing anything else, wash those hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner. To improve your germ-fighting etiquette, always use a tissue. If you don’t have one on hand, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not hands. Don’t leave that tissue lying around either – throw it away!

Some of the biggest spreaders of germs are kids, so log onto www.henrythehand.com for a fun way to teach children the basics of hygiene.