Healthy Living in the North

Clean hands are your best defence against the flu

Hands washing with soap.
The most effective and easiest way to prevent the spread of the flu is to have good hand hygiene.

Flu season is once again in full force. Influenza, or the flu, is a virus that causes fever, cough, headache, sore muscles or joints, fatigue or weakness, and a sore throat.

It’s spread through contact and fluid transfer, including breathing in the virus if someone sneezes or coughs, and doesn’t cover their mouth. It can also be shared by dirty surfaces and dirty hands. The most effective and easiest way to prevent the spread of the flu is to have good hand hygiene.

There are two ways to keep your hands clean. The first is just to… wash your hands. The soap and friction together wash the germs down the drain. Hand-washing tips:

  • Use regular soap, not antibacterial soap. Antibacterial soap can help create antibiotic-resistant germs.
  • After soaping your hands, sing a song like Happy Birthday (twice) or Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star while you rub your hands together. (Dancing in place and harmonizing with the person at the neighbouring sink: optional!) Both songs give you the ideal scrub time of about 20 seconds.
  • Make sure to wash the back of your hands and in between your fingers.
  • Rinse well and gently pat your hands dry.
  • To stop your hands from drying out, use lotions as needed.

The second way to keep your hands clean is to use hand sanitizer. Things to consider:

  • The sanitizer should be made up of at least 60% alcohol.
  • It’s convenient to use and you can keep it in your car or purse.
  • Use enough to keep your hands “wet” for 20 seconds. Rub your hands until it evaporates.
  • If your hands are visibly dirty, don’t use hand sanitizer. Instead, wash your hands. If this isn’t an option, use a wipe or towelette to get rid of dirt, then use hand sanitizer.

When should you clean your hands?

  • Before and after eating.
  • Before and after feeding someone else.
  • Before preparing food and after handling raw meat.
  • Before and after caring for someone who’s sick or injured.
  • Before inserting and removing contact lenses.
  • Before flossing your teeth.
  • After using the washroom or helping someone use the washroom.
  • After sneezing, coughing or using a tissue.
  • After handling pets or animal waste.
  • After cleaning.
  • After handling garbage.

80% of common infections, including the flu, are spread by our hands. Keep others safe, and keep yourself safe – clean your hands!

Tamara Reichert

About Tamara Reichert

Tamara is the communications advisor for the innovation and development commons at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects with the research, quality improvement, clinical simulation, and education teams. Born and raised in Prince George, Tamara grew up on a ranch where she rode horses, played with farm animals, built forts, and raided the family garden. She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking, cooking, reading, and cheering for her favourite sports teams.

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What’s the real story on influenza (flu)?

Spirit caribou mascot getting flu shot.

Protect yourself and your loved ones – get your flu shot! Flu shots are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

A version of this article was first published in the Winter 2015 issue of Healthier You magazine.


In my experience as a nurse, I have heard many questions about the flu and the flu vaccine. With flu season upon us, I wanted to look at some of the common myths I hear every year about influenza (“the flu”) and the vaccine in hopes to provide some accurate information for you to learn and share this season!

There is often a misunderstanding about the flu, with many believing that influenza is the stomach flu or the common cold. In fact, the flu is generally much worse than the common cold. Symptoms such as fever, headache, aches and pains, extreme fatigue, and cough are more common and more intense with the flu than they are with the common cold.

The common cold also generally does not result in serious health problems. Influenza, on the other hand, can lead to bacterial infections such as ear infection, a sinus infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Certain groups of people – such as seniors 65 and older, very young children, and people who have lung or heart disease, certain chronic health conditions, or weakened immune systems – are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Influenza is highly contagious and infects millions of Canadians every year. While most recover in about a week, thousands of Canadians, most of them young children and seniors, will die due to flu-related complications like pneumonia each year.

“I got the flu from my flu shot” is probably the most common myth I hear. In fact, the flu shot cannot give you influenza because the vaccine contains killed viruses that cannot cause infection. The vaccine that is given as a nasal spray does contain live virus but these viruses are attenuated (weakened) and cannot cause flu illness.

Another common question is why we need to get the flu vaccine every year. Because the flu virus is constantly changing, the flu vaccine is reviewed and updated each year to protect you.

How can I prevent influenza?

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Promptly dispose of used tissues in the waste basket or garbage
  • Cough and sneeze into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Stay home when you are ill
  • Get an influenza vaccine (are you eligible for a free vaccine?). Vaccines are available at any community pharmacy and may be available from your family physician or nurse practitioner.

Benefits of the flu vaccine

  • Prevents you from getting sick with the flu.
  • Helps protect people around you who are more vulnerable to a serious flu illness.
  • Helps to make your illness milder if you do get sick.

More information

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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Achoo! Flu season is near

Hands under running water

Proper hand washing is an important step that you can take to prevent the spread of the flu virus! Do you know how to properly wash your hands?

The cold weather is fast approaching and we are again reminded that influenza (the flu) season is near. For many Canadians, catching the flu can be a miserable experience. Symptoms include fever, body aches, headache, dry cough, and fatigue. For some, the flu can lead to bacterial infection such as ear infection, sinus infection, or pneumonia. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.

For the best protection against influenza, I recommend getting your flu shot.

There are also some additional ways you can prevent the spread of flu. At one time or another, all of us have endured the experience of someone sharing their germs. It isn’t a pleasant experience! So be kind to your friends and neighbours; practice coughing and sneezing etiquette! Influenza is easily spread from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or having face-to-face contact. It is also spread through touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus.

This video by ImmunizeBC shows how influenza spreads:

You can reduce the risk of getting and spreading the flu virus by:

  • Washing your hands regularly (especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose)
  • Coughing and sneezing into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands
  • Putting your used tissue in the waste basket
  • Staying home when you are ill
  • Getting an influenza vaccine. Visit ImmunizeBC to find a clinic near you!

To properly wash your hands, follow these steps:

  1. Remove rings or other jewelry on the hands and wrists.
  2. Wet your hands with warm water.
  3. Wash all parts of your hands with plain soap and water for at least 20 seconds, rubbing hands together to create lather. To help children learn the timing to wash their hands, sing the ABC song.
  4. Rinse hands well under warm running water.
  5. Dry hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
  6. Use the towel to turn off the tap and open the door when you leave if you are in a public restroom.

If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. After applying the gel or foam, rub your hands together until they are dry. This is an easy way to clean your hands as long as they are not visibly dirty.

More information

Kathryn Germuth

About Kathryn Germuth

Kathryn born in northern B.C., has worked as a Public Health Nurse in the communities of Terrace and Kitimat starting in 2009. Most recently, she worked as a Primary Care Nurse in Kitimat. Currently Kathryn is filling in as the Regional Nursing Lead for Maternal, Infant, and Child. Her close connection for health promotion and advocacy for mothers and families developed through her work as a nurse, and her own experiences being a mother. Kathryn loves living in the north experiencing all it has to offer with her family.

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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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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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