As Americans, we spend billions on antibacterial soaps, disinfectant sprays and wipes, not to mention all the cold and flu preparations we pack into our medicine cabinets that really do nothing to prevent or reduce the symptoms of the common cold. Yet for all the expense, all the worry, and all the extra fuss, the one thing we can do to keep ourselves healthy is all too frequently the very thing we don’t do: wash our hands thoroughly and often!
Just about all infection control boils down to the simple matter of preventing the spread of germs that can make us very sick. What better way to do that than to wash our hands?
Think about it.
After all, which do you think is dirtier: the toilet in your home or the keyboard in your office? Most experts will tell you that – unless you haven’t cleaned your bathroom since Richard Nixon was in office – your computer keyboard is far filthier. Why? The answer is simply because that keyboard comes into frequent contact with your hands. And what are your hands in contact with? Just about everything!
Consider the many things you may have done in the last hour. If you just got done grocery shopping, take a good look at your hands; even nice supermarkets can be quite filthy with everything from meat juices leaking from poorly wrapped packaging to boxes straight from warehouses where mice and rats scurry about to waste-contaminated dirt still clinging to vegetables grown in a country where both the water and soil are wildly polluted. Perhaps you opened your mail which not only has surface dirt, but the envelope flap may have been licked by another human being using his or her mouth, which can equally rival the human hand in terms of toxins it contains. Or maybe you may have handled a newspaper which in turn was handled by scores of other people before you received it.
Even if your hands appear quite clean, with trim and neat fingernails and the lingering smell of fine soap, the surface can still harbor millions upon millions of microscopic bacteria and germs. Rinse your hands briefly and while you may temporarily reduce the queasy-creating critters on the surface, more microbes hide away in the lines in your palms and around your finger joints, around the edge of a wedding ring, or the face of a wristwatch.
Touch food with your hands and those germs can then enter your body or the delicate systems of your children or elderly parents or grandparents. This is one of the most common ways we make ourselves and our families sick despite our desperate efforts to sanitize all the other surfaces surrounding us and avoid touching things that strangers have put their hands upon.
Now this isn’t meant to turn you into a neat freak with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) where you spend your entire life hosing everything and everyone you see down with Lysol. In fact, the overuse of antibacterial soaps and other germ-fighting compounds may actually increase your susceptibility to bacteria in the long term.
Instead, all you need to do is be mindful of how much you must do with your hands and then make a point to frequently and thoroughly wash them. You don’t need to do this with the practiced procedure of a surgeon about to perform a triple bypass, but you should do it before you prepare food, as you handle that food, as well as before and after you eat your meal. When you finish working at your computer keyboard, wash your hands again as completely as you would after using a public rest room.