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Issue 67: Three Simple Words to Abide By: Wash Your Hands

We have all seen the flu in the news lately. It has taken the media by storm and with good reason. Its impact can often be global and cases have been increasing. Mutated flu strains are nothing new, but there are some measures you can take to protect yourself, and one of those is frequent handwashing.

Did you know that we have between 4,000 to 5,000 microbes of bacteria, viruses, and fungi living in and on every pore and opening in our bodies, according to one source? It’s no surprise, then, that limiting the populations of unhealthy microbes is key to maintaining health. That’s why the CDC and other health institutions strongly suggest proper handwashing as part of a healthy approach for protection against spread of the flu.

The bottom line is this: proper personal hygiene is an important part of overall infection control. In fact, the idea of "respiratory hygiene" became a campaign the health department in Raleigh, N. C. stressed to help combat their flu outbreak in 2003. They encouraged people to wash their hands often and to cover their mouths with tissue when they cough or sneeze. 

Consistent handwashing has healthful benefits for everyone--including our military recruits. An August 2001 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicated that frequent handwashing resulted in 45% fewer bouts of respiratory illnesses such as colds, the flu, and pneumonia, compared with the same individuals a year prior when handwashing was not actively encouraged. Respiratory illnesses are the most common cause of lost time from military duty among young service individuals. The same holds true for those in the civilian workforce. 

The most effective means of spreading viruses involves touching the fingertips to the eyes and nose. This causes "auto-inoculation"—unwittingly putting the germs riding along on our hands into our bodies through the eyes, nose, and mouth. In order to reduce susceptibility to infection, cleansing these areas is essential because it helps to disarm the auto-inoculation process. 

The key to infection control is a simple, three-word command: Wash your hands. Germs are everywhere that people touch their hands: doorknobs, computer keyboards, shopping carts, checkout stands, money and coins, foods prepared by others, and toilets and sinks, to list a few.

Once germs set up camp on your fingertips, it’s only a matter of time before you rub your eyes, scratch your nose, stroke your ears, or touch your mouth, which sets the transfer of germs into motion. Once that happens, your body’s immune system is under attack.

By integrating good handwashing and other hygienic practices into your already established health regimen including a healthy diet, regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep, your chances will be greater for disarming any unwanted viruses.


This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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