I Hope I’m Preaching to the Choir

At this writing, we’re in the worst flu epidemic in over ten years and it’s intensifying. Now, many times over the years, I have advocated getting an annual flu shot as the primary preventive measure against this pesky, in some cases deadly, virus, which has resulted in crowded Emergency Rooms all over the country.

But there is another powerful, very important defense as well: Handwashing!

Think about it. The easiest way to come down with the flu or any other virus is to pick it up by touching or handling something that has been contaminated by someone who has touched it previously. Often, we don’t realize how everyday, common things, might be infected. For example, in a restaurant, while the utensils and dinnerware are undoubtedly placed on the table after being sanitized in the establishment’s commercial dishwasher, what about the other things on the table, like the salt and pepper shakers, sugar containers, and menus?

Consider a restaurant’s salad or buffet bar. In a study in the Journal of Food: Microbiology, Safety & Hygiene, researchers showed that E. coli bacteria easily spread from contaminated hands to metal salad tongs, and from tongs to hands.

Think of all the other things we touch during our daily routines, like door handles, handrails, phones, computer keyboards, others’ hands during those polite, diplomatic, germ-inducing, yet unavoidable handshakes, etc. The list is endless.

Handwashing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine you can take to reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness. Regular handwashing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. Handwashing is a win for everyone, except the germs.

Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Many diseases and conditions are spread by not washing hands with soap and clean, running water. If clean, running water is not accessible, as is common in some parts of the world, use soap and available water. If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean hands.

I had the flu once 47 years ago. Since then I have avoided that debilitating disaster like the plague that it is by taking strong preventive measures. I’ve had an annual flu shot ever since. And I have created the habit of washing my hands, not only after touching something “foreign”, but also whenever a convenient opportunity presents itself. I carry hand sanitizers in my purse and am known to go a few steps out of my way to use one of those sanitizing dispensers whenever I spot one. Also, and this is a key element, I have trained myself never to touch my face, i.e., eyes, nose, mouth, unless my hands are thoroughly cleansed.

As a result, since that one bout with the flu when I was 36 years old, I can’t believe, so far, I haven’t had even a cold. Try it—bet you can do it, too! And teach your children and grandchildren by word and deed.