As the holiday season wraps up, you may find yourself fighting off a cold or worse yet, the flu. Such illnesses spike this time of year, but can it all be blamed on the weather? The answer, of course, is no. There’s a very good reason why so many get sick during the holidays, and it boils down to all the time we spend together.
Consider for a moment the many gatherings of family and friends that you’ve likely already attended or soon will. Now, think of shaking everyone’s hand, giving them a hug, or the fact that so many different people are touching so many of the same items around the same time such as doorknobs or faucets. It may not cross your mind at the time, but being in such close proximity with so many people leaves you primed to catch a cold or other illness, even if no one appears to be sick at the time.
Naturally, you don’t want to miss out on the holiday festivities. After all, these opportunities only come once a year. Fortunately, vigilance with good hand hygiene is generally all it takes to keep you enjoying your Christmas and New Year’s gatherings without the fear of falling ill soon after. The catch is to make sure you are washing your hands at the right time and in the right way. Here are some tips to make hand washing as effective as possible:
- Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (about the length of time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice).
- Scrub vigorously, using friction to cover all the surfaces of the hands and fingers.
- If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand rub containing at least 60% alcohol.
- Clean your hands at these recommended times:
- Before eating
- Before, during, and after preparing food
- After using the restroom
- After coughing, sneezing, or caring for someone who is ill
- After taking out the garbage
- After petting animals
Following these guidelines has been shown to make a profound effect on the rate of illness, reducing the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31% and those who get colds, the flu, or other respiratory illness by 16-21%. Not only will it keep you safe and well, but it will do the same for those around you with weaker immune systems such as infants or the elderly. In fact, hand washing has been shown to reduce illness for these groups by up to 58% in some cases.
So, have fun this holiday season, and remember that the easiest way to prevent the spread of infection is to clean your hands! Happy Holidays!
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