While the influenza vaccine offers the best defense against the flu, frequent handwashing, done properly, offers an additional effective prevention tool.
It’s official: flu season has hit, and here in Boston, as across America, we are getting hit especially hard this year.
As the nationwide outbreak of this unusually aggressive virus increases, cases have risen dramatically and deaths have been reported in many cities. The CDC’s weekly map of cases in the US shows widespread influenza in almost all states (http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm). Boston has already seen 700 cases of flu since October, and 18 flu-related deaths have been reported in Massachusetts. In response to this outbreak, Boston’s Mayor Menino has declared a public health emergency and announced updates to the City’s response plan for this increasingly severe flu season.
What are the very best ways of protecting yourself?
The influenza vaccine offers the best defense against the flu. But, done properly, frequent handwashing offers an additional simple and effective prevention tool. Influenza virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, and that virus can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact (such as handshakes) or by touching an object that has the virus on it. Touching your face, mouth, nose or eyes can then lead to influenza infection. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are good, but they are not quite as effective at decreasing influenza transmission as a soap-and-water based handwashing.
How to best wash your hands?
It seems intuitive, but many of us need a refresher course in what is the best way to wash your hands! Most of us in the U.S. don’t wash our hands for a long enough duration to be truly effective: a recent handwashing survey found that most people wash their hands for just 5-10 seconds. And many of us could use some tips for coaching our children with handwashing techniques. Here’s how:
20 seconds may seem interminable when you are standing at the sink! Children can be encouraged to sing, “Happy Birthday To You” twice through as a good gauge of how long to wash. Adults can choose the song of their choice! Rinse your hands well with running water and dry your hands with a clean towel, paper towel, or air dry.
Don’t let a fear of hand dermatitis prevent you from handwashing often
Unfortunately, frequent hand washing can sometimes lead to hand dermatitis, especially in the cold, dry winter time. Hand dermatitis can often be avoided by careful use of hand creams immediately after washing. Place a tube of hand cream at each sink around your home to encourage household members to use it immediately after washing. Using heavier oil-based moisturizers at night under cotton gloves can also help heal severe irritation. If your hands still suffer from dry, red, scaly and fissured skin, your dermatologist at SkinCare Physicians can prescribe a topical steroid ointment to help soothe the inflammation. Don’t let a fear of hand dermatitis prevent you from washing your hands as often as you need to, to keep you and your family healthy—your health is in your hands!
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