Surgeons may have various specialties, but one unifying trait is that surgeons are really good at hand washing. As orthopedic surgeons, we are highly trained as hand specialists. So, it follows that we have a special affinity for hands and hand health. As we head into cold and flu season, we’d like to take the opportunity to remind you to care for your hands in a different way. That is, during this year’s National Hand Washing Awareness Week from December 1-7.
It probably seems like common sense to wash your hands when they are dirty or after going to the restroom. Did you know that hand washing has been scientifically proven to prevent disease and infection? In fact, the Centers for Disease Control calls hand washing a “do-it-yourself vaccine.”
The basics of hand washing as recommended by the experts at the CDC include these five steps:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water then apply soap
- Lather up the soap and clean the fronts and backs of your hands. Don’t forget between your fingers and under your nails
- Scrub away for at least 20 seconds
- Rinse thoroughly
- Dry them off with a clean towel or hand dryer
It’s not rocket science, but clean hands prevent 1 in 5 infections including the flu. They can also prevent 1 in 3 diarrhea-related illnesses, too.
The CDC suggests washing hands during the times when you are most likely to get and spread germs. These include:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for someone who is vomiting or has diarrhea
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After using the restroom
- After changing diapers or helping a child in the restroom
- After blowing your nose and sneezing
- After touching an animal or animal products
- After touching garbage
Our orthopedic patients with chronic illnesses or auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis should take special note. If you are taking biologic medicines, these therapies suppress the immune system, making you more susceptible to infection. It’s especially important for those with compromised immune systems to steer clear of germs and infections. Luckily, the easiest way to prevent infection is frequent hand washing.
What about hand sanitizers?
Hand sanitizers became more prevalent in schools, doctors’ offices and around the home within the last 20 years. Alcohol-based sanitizers are a good alternative to hand washing if you cannot get to soap and water. They reduce the number of germs in many cases, but, there are some downsides. Hand sanitizers don’t clean dirty hands. They may also kill good bacteria along with the bad which can lower your disease resistance. Whenever possible, it’s always best to use soap and water to wash hands.
As stewards of the Hippocratic oath to heal and protect our patients through orthopedic care, it’s important to us that our patients live happy, healthy lives. Please spread the word on hand washing and do your part to stop the spread of infection.