As anyone who has suffered from it knows, catching the flu is a horrible experience. The fever, chills, aches, soreness, muscle pain and extreme fatigue that flu causes will keep the afflicted in bed for days. Besides being in pain and miserable, the sick person will have to miss days or weeks of work – their entire life will be put on hold. Worse, in extreme cases the illness can be fatal. While the vast majority of sufferers survive, every year hundreds of thousands die from the flu worldwide. Clearly, flu prevention is vitally important.
We all know that keeping hands clean helps keep us from getting sick, but how does handwashing actually work? Can we really get rid of all the germs on our hands? Is there a single best technique for handwashing? Do antibacterial soaps really work? Scientists have studied these questions, and some of the answers may be surprising.
What exactly are germs? Can handwashing really get rid of them?
Microbes, microscopic organisms, are everywhere, including on human skin. Many of the microbes on hands are single-celled bacteria. Many of the bacteria are always there, living harmless and unnoticed; these are called resident bacteria. Other bacteria are picked up from the environment; these are called transient bacteria. Transients can persist on skin for days to months, but can’t live there forever. They may include pathogens — disease causing organisms, or germs.
Handwashing can never completely remove resident bacteria; there may be 10,000 or more individual bacteria on each hand, and they are adept at sticking to skin and slithering down between the cracks in skin cells to avoid removal. Transient bacteria are present in fewer numbers and are not adapted to living on skin surfaces; they can be completely removed by handwashing. Therefore, the purpose of handwashing is not to make hands sterile; it is to get rid of any potential pathogens that have hitched a ride. However, handwashing technique can vary, and as we will see, some variables are more important than others in making sure pathogens have been removed.
Does it matter if the water is hot or cold?
Although germs aren’t likely to be destroyed by water temperatures we can tolerate, health experts have long recommended washing hands with warm or hot water. The reason is that warmer water should help dissolve oils and other substances coating skin, helping to wash away germs with them. Unfortunately, recent studies comparing the numbers of bacteria on hands washed with cold, warm, and hot water have shown no difference in the results — just as many bacteria remain no matter what water temperature is used. Since using hot water uses more energy and might irritate the skin if handwashing is frequent, cold water might be a better option.
What does soap actually do?
In general, soap doesn’t kill germs. In fact, populations of bacteria have been found thriving in liquid soap dispensers in public restrooms. Instead, the purpose of soap is to help remove contaminants and bacteria from the skin surface. There is an extra benefit as well; some studies have examined how thoroughly volunteers washed their hands with and without soap; the volunteers using soap did a much more thorough job. Using water alone will reduce the number of germs on hands, but using soap is more effective.
Should antibacterial soap be used? What about other sanitizers?
Although antibacterial soap is everywhere, there is no scientific evidence that it is any better at removing germs from hands than regular soap. There is also concern that triclosan, a common ingredient in antibacterial soap, could cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.
For how long should hands be washed?
The length of handwashing depends on the circumstances; for example, very dirty hands or hands exposed to more pathogens need a longer period. In general, studies show that 20-30 seconds of handwashing is all it takes to remove most germs. To help time handwashing, you can hum the “Happy Birthday” song two times – this should take approximately 20 seconds.
Which areas get missed?
Worldwide, the same areas are missed again and again when hands are washed. Fingertips, cuticles, between the fingers, and the back of the hand, especially the thumb and ring finger, are areas which get the least attention; therefore, these are the areas where most germs remain.
GlitterBug is designed to disclose where hand washing can improve.
Research-based handwashing technique
In order for handwashing to work, proper technique is a must. Begin handwashing by wetting hands with warm or cool water. Apply soap and lather hands; remember commonly-missed areas such as around the nails, between the fingers, and the backs of the hands. Scrub hands together for at least 20 seconds (or two rounds of the “Happy Birthday” song) before thoroughly rinsing and drying.
As long as the proper technique is used, handwashing is an excellent way to reduce or eliminate transient bacteria, including disease-causing pathogens.
Hand sanitizers have been a popular commodity since the emergence of Covid-19 in the Spring of 2020. There was even a shortage for a while, as everyone rushed to stores to stock up. As sales continue to rise consumers should be aware of the ingredients of the product and the marketing techniques that manufacturers use to increase sales.
According to the FDA, in order to be effective, hand sanitizers should contain at least 60% alcohol. The label may list this as ethanol, ethyl alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol. If the label does not show the percentage of alcohol contained in the product, do not buy it.
Some types of alcohol are extremely dangerous, and it is doubtful that a manufacturer would list these on the label if they are present, but the FDA has found contamination with methyl alcohol or 1-propanol in some hand sanitizers manufactured in Mexico and sold in the U.S. Methyl alcohol, or wood alcohol as it is sometimes called, is used to make antifreeze. 1-propanol is an ingredient of industrial solvents.
Claims that hand sanitizers can prevent Covid-19, influenza or other diseases are misleading. Any product making these claims should be avoided. Hand sanitizers, when used properly, can only kill germs that are on your hands, and only lasts until you touch something else.
Misleading Marketing Practices
Some hand sanitizers on the market are scented with appetizing smells such as chocolate or strawberries. If a child smells these, he or she may think they are good to drink. Hand sanitizers packaged in containers that resemble beverage cans, water bottles or food pouches can also mislead young children into thinking that the contents are edible food products.
There have been cases where a person has mistakenly believed that a product that contains alcohol is OK to drink. Since alcoholic beverages contain alcohol, why not drink Nyquil, extract of Vanilla, mouth wash, or hand sanitizer and get a similar “buzz”? Ingesting any of these products could produce headaches, diarrhea, vomiting, irregular heart rate, seizures and if a very large quantity is consumed, possibly coma or death could result.
Since hand sanitizers seem to be everywhere these days it is important to understand what the ingredients are. Make sure the contents are clearly labeled and contain a minimum of 60% alcohol. Ignore claims made on labels that the hand sanitizer you are buying will prevent influenza, Covid-19 or anything else. It does not. Never ingest hand sanitizer. It is not safe for human consumption. Small children should be supervised when using hand sanitizers. When shopping for hand sanitizers, avoid packaging that could be mistaken for food products. Steer clear of those with appetizing scents.
Teach people how to apply hand sanitizer correctly with Glitterbug Gel.
Flu season is no longer coming–it is here. No one wants to stay at home with fever, nausea, and the other unpleasantries that come with being sick. Even if you got the flu shot, with the dismal effective numbers for this year’s vaccine, odds are pretty good you’ll still get sick. It never hurts to do your part when you want something. If good health is high on your list, check out the tips below. Practicing these three tips can help reduce the possibility of becoming a victim of this year’s debilitating strain of influenza.
Wash Your Hands: Everyone hears that handwashing is important but what most people don’t hear frequently enough is how to do it right. To avoid infection, hands must be scrubbed with soap for at least twenty to thirty seconds. Thirty seconds is approximately the time it takes to sing the ABC song. Rinse your hands thoroughly with clean water and dry them well. Regular handwashing is by far the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient protection against contracting the flu.
Avoid Germ-Laden Surfaces: You don’t have to refuse to use your hands to open doors or wear gloves everywhere to protect yourself from germy fixtures. A little knowledge about germ hotspots can help you decide what to touch and what you’d rather not handle. Gas pump dispensers are much dirtier than toilet seats and wiping down shopping carts is definitely a good idea. Carrying a small container of hand sanitizer in your pocket will allow you to instantly zap any germs. However, keep in mind that sanitizers kill good germs that help build your immune system as well as bad germs that make you sick, so use it sparingly.
Stay Away From Crowds: Chilly winter weather makes indoor activities much more appealing. Unfortunately, it is much easier to pass germs around in close quarters. If at all possible, avoid venues that you know will be crowded. Do your grocery shopping at times that are less busy, such as the middle of the week. Try to stay away from locations such as malls, crowded theaters, or events where a lot of people will be in a confined space.
The tips above do not guarantee you’ll make it through the season illness-free but they can certainly decrease your chances of getting sick. As an added bonus, protecting yourself from the flu also prevents you from spreading it to others. When you consider the loss of time, money, and the terrible feeling of having the flu, a little handwashing or grocery shopping at odd hours seems like no big deal.
Inform people about how to protect themselves from the acquisition viruses and germs such as Corona Virus. One cannot watch the news lately without being inundated with stories about the latest deadly virus outbreak. Scenes showing the dire situation in China where the outbreak seems to have started are prevalent in the media. Closed borders, sequestered or isolated travelers, cruise-ship customers in lock-down. Investigators are working feverishly to determine the sources of these viruses and the routes of transmission especially from one person to the next.
The usual routes to infection are the most likely suspects. Touching surfaces in public and then touching our portals of entry (eyes, nose and mouth), breathing in of airborne germs or ingesting contaminated food. Of course we are concerned with preventing illness amongst the population at large but must also realize that protecting oneself is of primary importance. In that vein Brevis presents new posters to inform people about the basic steps that can help to protect themselves.
Except for it being “Flu Season”, I love the winter months.
If you live near 40°′N like I do, undoubtedly you’ve experienced some snow this season, to which not a single person has a neutral opinion. Personally, I’ve crossed zero several times in my life. Starting with love for fluffy white playful snow as a child, moving swiftly into a deep hatred for a biting, slushy, wintery death while walking to school in canvas shoes, and finally back to love for a nostalgically snowy day as an adult.
Currently I’m a huge fan of snow, though not for any of the reasons I could have predicted, much less reasons good enough to write a blog article, but here we go anyway. I like driving in the snow (though I hate when other people drive in the snow), I like watching the accumulation of a winter wonderland as snow falls across the streetlamps at night, and I enjoy the human surrender to nature as we dig all of our heavy clothing out of storage and attire ourselves ritualistically for the smallest tasks. I won’t go anywhere without my boots. If you see me in snow without them, destroy the imposter, or check for signs of meningitis.
The heat in my house is off until the first sunny day in March. Some people find that strange. Nearly all others think it’s criminal. This habit serves me twice: I save quite a bit of money on utilities, and it dissuades nearly all pesky pop-ins. I own plenty of warm clothing that stays in storage most of the year, and I like to use it occasionally. I won’t go as far as to say I’m reclusive, but I do spend the majority of my time alone, in the dark, trying to stay warm. On the plus side, I rarely get sick. With so few people coming in and out of my house, the opportunity for germ transfer in these sickly winter months is highly reduced.
So why am I completely miserable, smelling like an herbal tea factory, sweating and shivering at the same time? Well it turns out that it could be my fault. Whoever said I can’t take accountability for my actions?
All About Germs
I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about germs, then again I didn’t grow up knowing a lot about most things. It turns out there are several factors that contribute to what we affectionately call “flu season”. Among these are the usual suspects:
I don’t doubt the contributions of these well studied factors, but my lifestyle leads me to believe there’s another player in the game. I don’t spend time with anyone else, and it’s not like I see a lot of sun during the hot months anyway.
It turns out that my beloved winter gear that keeps me alive for three months of the year, forgotten for nine, is a suitable suspect. It’s generally agreed, or at least intuitively good practice, that coats, hats, and gloves should be washed more often than most most people likely do. Not because you’re gross (though you probably are), but because those are often overlooked items that live in the back of a closet, emerging only in desperate times, and forgotten again just as quickly. I would venture a guess that most people don’t think to properly wash and store their winter clothing. Partly because the winter season often still makes brief and occasionally devastating appearances all the way through a stormy Spring, and partly because it’s not the kind of thing that comes to mind during the first blissfully warm day of the year.
While performing average activities during an unremarkable day, people have been shown to touch their faces up to 16 times per hour. That seems high initially, but I’ve been very conscious of my face since I started writing this article and at this point I think the number could easily be much higher. Most people could stand a reeducation on hand-washing. And though folks aren’t washing their hands well enough, or often enough, they’re certainly washing their hands more often than they’re washing their gloves.
Remember as you go about your day, touching things, that the same germs that you would normally collect on your hands are now on your gloves. The germ accumulation on gloves over the period of a few weeks is surely much higher than even improperly washed hands. So what can you do? Wash your gloves, hats, and coats! And while you’re at it, brush up on your hand washing habits in general.
I’ll be under the blankets until this whole thing blows over.
What makes us get sick more often during the holiday season?
Many theories have been postulated and studied over the years and many factors are blamed for being virus enablers. Closer proximity of hosts (us) within closed spaces makes transmission easier due to the shared air we breathe while indoors and the common surfaces we touch as people share confined areas. Further, foods are presented and ingested in areas with higher germ populations due to the foregoing.
Other theories suggest that inactivity and depression generally increases with the cold and gloomy weather and this coupled with decreased exposure to the sun may tend to inhibit our immune systems.
We suspect that all of these factors and more contribute to the seasonal spike in illnesses. But, there are some commons sense actions that can help reduce your chances of being the next holiday (infection) host. The most effective way to reduce your risks of seasonal sickness is to wash your hands often, especially after shaking hands, touching surfaces in common areas such as handrails and countertops and especially before eating.
It’s October again and that means it’s International Infection Prevention Week again. With the fall colors also come dropping temperatures and increasing incidents of Colds, Flu and other illnesses. As temperatures drop we collectively spend more time indoors where germs can transfer from host to host more readily. Increased readiness can help with infection control and prevention which is always easier than recovery. Sanitize commonly touched objects and places often and remember to wash your hands frequently. Stay ahead of the germs and encourage prevention with robust emphasis. Brevis products help you lead the way with posters, mugs and of course GlitterBug® Hand-Washing and Hand-Sanitizing training aids.
Save 20% with code “IIPW”
Also to aid your budget and just in time for International Infection Prevention Week – for this week only receive 20% off all Brevis products . Just type IIPW in the promo code field in the shopping cart to receive your discount. Jump-start your IIPW program with fun colorful handwashing swag and don’t forget to re-stock your GlitterBug® supplies.
Sometimes a patient develops an infection while being treated in the hospital or other medical facility. It could be an infection from germs that enter the body at a surgery site. It could be an infection that develops from germs carried on a piece of medical equipment. There are many possible causes.
Infections like these are called healthcare associated infections, or HAIs, and we take them very seriously.
September is National Food Safety Month and because everybody eats, everybody should be reminded about the importance of safe food handling. Safe food handling is critical of course for those who prepare your food, but the food-consumer should be careful not to introduce microbial pests while eating. Proper hand-washing is the common denominator of effective infection prevention. To help you with your mission of promoting food-safety and infection prevention Brevis is holding a September Special.
Foodborne illnesses cost the U.S. about $78 billion per year.
Each year, approximately 1 in 6 Americans gets foodborne illness.
Foodborne illnesses result in over 3,000 deaths each year.
68% of outbreaks occur at restaurants. Sourced from CDC.gov
10% off all GlitterBug products
Just enter promo code “Educate” while checking out your shopping cart.
Hey, did you wash your hands recently? Well, you probably did it wrong. CNN pointed out a recent government study found that 97 percent of the time, people fail to properly wash their hands—a problem that can lead to all sorts of unnecessary illnesses being spread.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, people are falling short of meeting the standards for acceptable handwashing set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bar to make sure your hands are sufficiently clean requires you to wash and scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds.
The study looked at 363 people in six kitchen test facilities located in the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina and in the town of Smithfield, North Carolina. What it found was nearly every person working in the kitchens failed to reach the handwashing standard set by the CDC, which is probably not reassuring if you’re currently out to eat at a restaurant in Tar Heel State.