Your hands are gross. It’s a fact of life. You touch hundreds of surfaces a day, all of which contain their own little worlds of nasty germs. But you might not realize just how gross your hands really are.
Take a look:
- Germs can survive for up to three hours on your hands.
- There are between 2 to 10 million bacteria on your fingertips and elbows.
- The number of germs on your fingertips doubles after you use the toilet.
- When you don’t wash your hands, you transfer germs to the food and drinks you eat.
- Your hands spread 1,000 times more germs when they are damp than when they are dry.
Why are germs so bad?
A germ is a tiny organism that can cause diseases and illnesses. Germs can get on your hands after you use the toilet, change a diaper, handle raw meats, or touch any object that has germs on it. When germs are not washed from your hands, they can be passed from person to person. By killing these germs, we lower the likelihood that someone will get sick.
This is important for a number of reasons. For one, nobody wants to be sick, and some of those illnesses could become quite serious. Secondly, those who get sick could be affected financially.
Another reason is that the more people who get sick, the more antibiotics are prescribed, often unnecessarily, according to Cheryl Houselog, infection preventionist at Tri-County Health Care. The more antibiotics you take, the more bacteria builds a resistance to those antibiotics, meaning they will not work as well to fight off that infection. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem in the U.S.
Other “fun” germ facts:
- One germ can multiply into more than 8 million germs in one day.
- Nearly 80 percent of illness-causing germs are spread by your hands.
- Your remote control is a top carrier of bacteria.
- There are more germs on your phone, keyboard and cutting board than on a toilet seat.
- One in five people don’t wash their hands, and of those that do, only 30 percent use soap.
- When you flush the toilet, germs can spray up to 6 feet.
- Purses and handbags have up to 10,000 bacteria per square inch, and 30 percent of them contain fecal (poop) bacteria.
Fighting those germs
Now that you’ve been effectively grossed out by the facts above, you’ll need to know how to kill some of those germs that live on your hands to keep you and others safe from illness.
Other than getting vaccinated, the number-one thing you can do is wash your hands, Cheryl said. Washing your hands is one of the best defenses you have against infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts it this way: When you wash your hands, you can prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses and 1 in 5 respiratory infections such as a cold or flu.
So what’s the best way to clean your hands? Simply use soap and water! The CDC has this down to a science:
- Get your hands wet, turn off the water, and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together to lather up the soap. Clean every surface from between your fingers and under your nails to your palms and back of your hands.
- Scrub for at least 20 seconds. If you need a way to time it, sing or hum “Happy Birthday” twice through.
- Turn the water back on and rinse well.
- Dry your hands with a clean towel and use the towel to turn off the water.
However, if you don’t have access to soap and water, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol (as long as your hands are not visibly soiled or dirty).
In fact, primary care providers have begun using alcohol-based sanitizers. That’s the foam spray you see them use as they enter your exam room. The CDC cites many studies that show these hand sanitizers work incredibly well in clinical settings.
For more information about hand washing from the CDC, go here.
Cover your cough
Your hands aren’t the only way that germs are spread. Germs of respiratory illnesses, such as the cold or flu, can be spread through coughing or sneezing into the air or on your hands.
Did you know that when you sneeze, you shoot droplets with up to 100,000 bacteria and viruses into the air at 100 mph? And those droplets can stay in the air for up to 10 minutes!
That’s why it’s important to practice proper cough etiquette. Try to sneeze or cough into a tissue, a sleeve or your elbow if possible, and turn away from other people while doing so. Finally, wash your hands once you’re done.
Flu season in Minnesota begins ramping up near the end of December and beginning of January, so it’s a good time for everyone to start doing their part to prevent the spread of infection by washing their hands, practicing cough etiquette, and getting vaccinated.
Sources: CDC, Unicef, Med One Group