Hand Hygiene Expert Offers Tips to Fight Germs During Holiday Travels


As you travel to visit friends and family this holiday season, dont leave home without the hand sanitizer. During cold and flu season, thats one of three things you can do to protect yourself from getting sick youre on the go. Heres what Elaine Larson, PhD, RN, FAAN, associate dean for research at Columbia University School of Nursing, says works best:

1. Take 15 seconds to sanitize

The best, fastest and most effective way to clean hands when youre on the go is to carry a small container of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, Larson says. A 15 second application of alcohol-based sanitizer is more effective at killing germs than a 5 minute hand wash. Plus, you dont need to hunt for a sink and clean towels.

Look for sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol, and be sure to use enough to keep your hands moist for at least 10 seconds the minimum time needed to kill bacteria. Alcohol sanitizers work only when theyre wet, Larson says.

2. Steer clear of air dryers

If you do wash your hands in a public restroom, try to steer clear of the air dryers, Larson says. They disperse water particles and probably some germs into the air, she adds. Its preferable to use a paper towel since the friction of the drying also helps to remove germs. Or, just let your hands air dry naturally.

3. Wash every surface on the hands:

The No. 1 mistake people make is just rubbing their palms together, and missing the dirtiest part of their hands, Larson says. You cant stop viruses from spreading unless you cover every single surface on the hands including between the fingers and under and around the finger nails. Soap is also crucial because it acts as an emulsifier to slip the germs off the hands.

Larson offers guidelines on hand hygiene as part of National Hand Washing Awareness Week, from Dec. 1 to Dec. 7. Larson is a fellow in the Institute of Medicine and has advised the World Health Organization on best practices for handwashing. She has been editor of the American Journal of Infection Control since 1995 and has published more than 250 journal articles, four books and a number of book chapters in the areas of infection prevention, epidemiology and clinical research.

Source: Columbia University School of Nursing

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