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The single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable disease is good hand hygiene. Close quarters and constant interactions on campus bring you in contact with a variety of bacteria and viruses that can get you or those around you sick. The influenza virus alone can survive on surfaces from two to eight hours.
In addition to the common cold or flu, there are many illnesses that can be prevented by hand washing: meningitis, hepatitis A, numerous food-borne illnesses (e.g., salmonella and E. coli), and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA or “staph”), just to name a few.
In a recent Student Health 101 survey of about 1,200 students, nearly 97 percent said they wash after using the bathroom. But only 65 percent do so before eating, and even fewer (62 percent) after coughing, sneezing, or blowing their nose.
Use Good Technique
There’s an art to washing your hands:
- Wet your hands with clean, running warm water and apply soap.
- Rub your hands together and scrub all surfaces, including underneath nails. It takes 20-30 seconds to effectively remove germs, about the time to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
- Rinse hands under running water and dry your hands using a towel or air dryer. If possible, use the towel to turn off the faucet. (If using non-disposable towels, make sure to launder frequently.)
- Anti-bacterial soaps are all the craze, but aren’t necessary if you use proper washing technique. Overuse of these products can create resistance in bacteria, too.
Wash your hands BEFORE and AFTER:
- Preparing food, especially raw meat or poultry
- Caring for someone who is ill or injured
- Treating a cut or wound
- Inserting or removing contact lenses
Wash your hands AFTER:
- Blowing your nose, sneezing, or coughing
- Changing diapers
- Handling animals
- Handling trash
- Whenever your hands appear dirty
Tired of seeing people use the bathroom without washing their hands?
- Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Did you wash your hands?
- American Red Cross, Hand Washing.
- Centers for Disease Control, Clean Hands Save Lives!
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Remove Germs.
Straight To the Point
- Hope you washed and flushed!
- Um... you forgot to do something...
- Excuse me, you know you didn’t wash your hands?
- Dude gross. Come on, germs, man.
- Please wash your hands.
- So, you’re not going to wash your hands? You’re just going to use the bathroom and walk right out?
- Hey, sorry—it is gonna be a bit awkward for me to say—but I think you forgot to wash your hands.
- Excuse me, can I open the door before you touch it?
- It is flu season you know! (Smile and try to be warm about it.)
- That door handle is really dirty. I would wash your hands and open the door with a paper towel.
- Hey, you might get yourself sick if you don’t wash those germs off.
- You don’t want to get sick and miss classes!
- Sing “bac-ter-i-a” as they leave the bathroom.
- Would you like some hand sanitizer? (And use some, too.)
- Hey, here’s some sanitizer.
- Here, use my hand sanitizer. It smells really good.
Hand Sanitizer Tips
- You can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available or there is no visible dirt on your hands.
- The product needs to contain at least 60 percent alcohol to be effective.
- Squeeze some product into one palm, and rub over all surfaces of hands and fingers until dry.
Get help or find out more
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Put Your Hands Together
World Health Organization, How to Handwash poster