Healthy Living in the North

Hand washing during flu season and beyond!

Soapy hands and a running water tap.

Germs are unavoidable but you can reduce their presence on your hands and reduce the chances of passing them on by following some basic hand cleaning steps!

You can’t avoid germs. They are always collecting on your hands – when you open doors, change diapers, play with toys, handle money, and carry out all sorts of daily tasks. While you can’t avoid germs, you can reduce their presence on your hands, and the chance of passing them on to others, by cleaning your hands often. Good hand hygiene is important to reduce the spread of germs that can cause influenza and other illnesses such as colds, diarrhea, or vomiting. Getting into the habit of cleaning your hands often is important during flu season and beyond!

Clean your hands before:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Feeding your baby or child
  • Giving a child medication

Clean your hands after:

  • Preparing or eating food
  • Changing a diaper
  • Using the toilet
  • Sneezing, wiping, or blowing your nose (or your child’s nose)
  • Playing with pets or animals
  • Taking care of a child or sick family member
  • Playing outdoors, in group settings, or with toys

How to clean your hands with soap and water:

  1. Remove any jewelry on the hands and wrists. Wet your hands under running water.
  2. Scrub your hands well with soap for at least 40-60 seconds. Pay close attention to the areas between your fingers, your fingernails, and both the front and back of your hands. To get the timing down, teach children to sing the ABC song while they wash.
  3. Rinse your hands under running water.
  4. Dry your hands with a clean towel.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can also be used if no soap and water is available, but be sure to wash your hands with soap and water if they are visibly dirty.

How to clean your hands with alcohol rubs:

  1. Remove any jewelry on the hands and wrists.
  2. Apply a palmful of product in a cupped hand and rub your palms together. Rub all areas of your hands well (including between your fingers, fingernails, and both the front and back of your hands) for at least 20-30 seconds.
  3. Let your hands dry.
Kyrsten Thomson

About Kyrsten Thomson

Based in Terrace, Kyrsten is a public health communications liaison nurse. Her role focuses on promoting immunization awareness and supporting internal and external communications. Kyrsten moved to Terrace seven years ago after graduating with a nursing degree in Ontario. As a student, she knew public health was her passion, especially work in health promotion and community development. She fell in love with the north and all the fantastic outdoor activities right at her fingertips. Since moving to the north, Kyrsten has started a family, taken up hiking, running, and enjoys spending summer days at the cabin.

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Your most important health habit

hands; washing; hand washing

Taking a few seconds to focus on those “trouble spots”

As a Health Promotions and Communications Officer, my job is to find (trusted and true) information to share about health. As you can imagine, this impacts my personal habits every single day. A few weeks ago, we were preparing information about the flu. I am eligible for the free flu shot but I also want to know what I can do to prevent getting the flu in my every day actions.

A quick glance on the web will try and convince me to take any number of supplements to support healthy immune functions, but the one that sticks with me the best is more widely available to all of us than any supplement. The most important habit to keep you healthy is to wash your hands.

If you think about it, washing your hands supports your health every single day. Unlike keeping track of physical activity or servings of vegetables, I can do this multiple times a day and know that I am supporting my health.

To provide the public with health information, I work with a variety of experts. In this exercise, I worked with Kim Garrison, Public Health Communications Liaison Nurse, and I learned some interesting tidbits about hand hygiene and I think they are worth sharing with you:

  • Did you know that viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to two days, and on hands for up to five minutes? I think about this when using elevators and opening doors. It motivates me to clean my hands more regularly!
  • There are commonly some parts of your hands that you will miss when washing them. These include the backs of your hands, around your finger nails, and especially the back of the thumb area. Next time you wash your hands, think about where you spend your time scrubbing.
  • While washing your hands with warm running water and soap is ideal, we don’t always have access to soap and water. In this case, alcohol based hand sanitizers are useful in keeping the germs at bay. Just make sure to rub your hands together until they are dry!

Finally, what good would an article on hand washing be if I didn’t give you those seven cardinal rules to do it properly? To ensure you are germs from all parts of your hands, it is important to follow these steps:

  1. Remove jewelry from hands and wrists
  2. Get hands wet with warm water
  3. Wash all parts of hands with soap and water, and rub together to create a lather
  4. Rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds
  5. Rinse hands well under warm running water for at least 10 seconds
  6. Dry hands with a clean cloth or paper towel
  7. Use the towel to turn off the tap and open the door when you leave if in a public restroom

A good idea to help children wash their hands long enough is to sing the ABC song with them.

When you think of your health habits, what things do you think of? How far up that list is washing your hands?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.

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If we know it’s important to wash our hands. . . then why aren’t we doing it?

STOP! Clean your hands!

Canada’s STOP! Clean Your Hands day is scheduled to take place on Monday, May 6, 2013.

It’s a safe bet that one of the first things many of us learned as children was how to wash our hands. We had to wash our hands after playing outside in the dirt, before eating, when somebody spilled something on us, or if we blew our noses or sneezed.

It was drilled into us that washing our hands was important to staying healthy; in other words, the best way not to pick up some icky germs.

Why, then, is it so hard for us to make hand cleaning part of our routine as adults? And, more importantly, why are health care providers among some of the worst offenders when it comes to practicing proper hand hygiene?

It’s not like we don’t have constant reminders. Walk into any Northern Health facility and you’ll see hand cleaning stations and signs displaying the hand hygiene compliance rates for health care workers who are being audited on a regular basis. Go into your local grocery store and you’ll see a hand washing dispenser near the front door or in the meat department. Use a washroom in a local restaurant and you’ll see signs telling you that you’d better not exit the room without washing your hands!

You can now even buy wearable hand sanitizers that you can hook on your belt or wear on a lanyard around your neck. With tools like that, wouldn’t you agree that there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t always remember to wash our hands?

If you need further convincing, visit the Provincial Infection Control Network of BC, which has a range of hand hygiene resources devoted to proper hand washing. Or you can visit the BC Centre for Disease Control. They have a wonderful page devoted to hand washing which includes detailed information of when and how to wash your hands; what kind of soap or alcohol-based hand rubs are best; and how to minimize your risks of picking up germs.

Likewise, for Canada’s national Lung Association. They tell you in plain language how to wash your hands and fight germs. In this day and age of superbugs, why wouldn’t anyone want to follow these simple rules for hand hygiene?

In health care, we know that regularly washing our hands is the single most important way to prevent the spread of infections and protect patients, staff, and physicians. To paraphrase a well-known company, let’s stop making excuses and just do it!

Deanna Hembroff

About Deanna Hembroff

Deanna is the NH regional manager for infection prevention where she is actively involved in the hand hygiene program. Deanna has a nursing degree from the University of Victoria and has been certified in infection prevention for 14 years. When not at work, Deanna can be found enjoying time with her family, walking their two golden retrievers and, when time permits, reading a good book.

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