Clean Those Hands!

11 08 2016

My older daughter started preschool when she was three.

That autumn, our lives changed — our healthy little family became a sick, exhausted mess.

Every three to four weeks for the next several years, at least one of us would be felled by some illness.

I remember commenting on it to the preschool director. She laughed and explained that it happened to every teacher and family new to preschool or daycare.

A perfectly healthy family or individual would, soon after their first exposure to school, dissolve into a puddle of sickly goo and stay that way for years.

It was due to the teeming mass of sneezing, coughing, nose-picking, walking petri dishes we called children, who cheerfully plastered germs on each other and on every surface in the building.

preschool

We were all immunized against the diseases for which there were vaccines. But, that didn’t account for those germs running free with nothing to stop them but a pair of clean hands.

We had to up our hand cleaning game, big time.

And here’s the thing about clean hands — one could almost say the conundrum of public health — when we use soap and water on our hands, we wash off most of the germs, but as soon as our clean hands touch an unsterilized surface (a.k.a. pretty much anything or anyone in the world outside of instruments in an operating room), germs hop right back on our hands.

The same is true with hand sanitizer. As soon as it’s dry and our hands touch a germy surface, we’re loaded for bear, as my grandma used to say.

One could ask, why bother to clean our hands?

It’s a fair question. The answer is simple — by cleaning our hands numerous times a day, we continually get rid of the hitchhiker germs.

If we add cleanliness to the habit of keeping our hands away from our eyes, nose, and mouth, then we have a good shot at avoiding lots and lots of infections.

Cleaning our hands frequently throughout the day is not a guarantee of good health, but not cleaning them is a sure way to spend a lot of time feeling lousy.

 

 

by Trish Parnell

Image courtesy Pixabay





Here’s to Clean Hands

15 03 2012

It’s no secret that clean hands are one of our most effective weapons against infections. At PKIDs, we’re big on handwashing. One of our first projects as an organization was the development of a handwashing video for young kids. It still gets used today:

Several years later, PKIDs and students from the Art Institute of Portland developed a handwashing cartoon that’s perfect for middle school or high school students. It’s a flash program and can be played from a computer.

We also have a handwashing poster that can be downloaded from our site. There are two versions—one with PKIDs’ brand on it and one that’s unbranded, should you want to put your own contact info on it.

Yep, we think clean hands are a big deal in the fight against infections. If you know of any resources health educators can use, just put them in the comments section. Thanks!





Happy St. Patrick’s Day: How the Celts handled hygiene

17 03 2011

A Celtic warrior, presumably fresh from a good bathe and very well manscaped (photo credit: Bart Vetters, via Creative Commons)

In honor of St. Patrick’s day, those of us at PKIDs with a wee bit o’ the Celt in our genes decided to look into the hygiene of our ancestors. Just how clean were those bodies wearin’ the green (or blue), anyway?

You may think that ancient peoples, like the Celtic tribes, didn’t practice great personal hygiene. It’s true that during the medieval period, you wouldn’t want to have been trapped in a crowded room just about anywhere in Europe. But for many ancient Celts, hygiene was an important part of their culture. Did you know that they often get credit for having invented soap, or at least for passing it off to the Romans? Before the Romans acquired this tallow-made cleanser, they used urine to clean just about everything, although for their skin, scented oils were the unguent of choice. The Iberian Celts suffered under the accusation that they brushed their teeth and washed with stale urine (ewww), but since the source of this information was a chronicler from the enemy’s side, it must be taken with a wee bit of salt.

Whether Celtic Gauls truly did introduce the Romans to using animal-fat soap (sheep tallow), as Pliny credits them, these ancient peoples certainly had a number of hygiene routines that were practically cultural laws. In fact, they were simply expected. For example, according to some sources, a Celtic warrior had to bathe before a meal or before battle.

Warriors (and possibly others) also were known for shaving their entire bodies (or maybe burning the hair off with lye–ouch) except for the mustache and head hair, which they grew very long. They would then paint themselves with blue dye from the woad plant to provide a terror-inducing visual for the enemy. In that long hair, the warriors used a lime-based pomade that turned their lengthy locks white. In other words, Celtic warriors manscaped.

In spite of the bathing and manscaping, practices at the table may not have been up to today’s norms. The Celtic style for aristocratic men was a long, handlebar-type mustache that, during eating, would capture bits of food that drinking strained away. Ewww, again. In spite of the soup-straining facial hair, however, the Celts were very much into shaving, which kept away pestilent vermin, and even had nail clippers to keep their fingernail growth in check.

Celts probably even washed their hands in the mornings with their tallow soaps and as they bathed. Given how embedded their cultural hygiene practices were, their hand-washing rates may have far exceeded today’s rates in the United States, which fall below 50% for many groups. Ahem, citizens of the United States. Are you going to let the ancient Celts out-do you in hygiene? This St. Patrick’s Day, we wish you the luck o’ the Irish…and Celtic hand-washing rates, as well.

 





Do As I Say, Not As I Do

4 08 2010

Mo, the silent one

I just spent a few days with two colleagues from PKIDs.  We have a lot in common: we’re moms of school-age children, we work for the same nonprofit, we work from home offices, and we’re all unusually aware of how efficiently unclean hands can spread germs.

So why, I have to ask, did we keep forgetting to clean our hands before noshing?  We’d get about a third of the way through bread or something else you pick up with your hands, and one of us would stop and look guiltily at the other two.  Out came the sanitizer as we agreed that it was good the kids weren’t there to see our fall from grace.

Rachael, who is more thoughtful than I, had several ideas as to why we were not as good as usual about keeping our hands clean:

  • Like most people, one of the biggest barriers to handwashing is that we simply forget in the rush of daily life
  • We were out of our routines and routine is an important step in keeping hands clean
  • We didn’t have a plan – when out of our routine, it’s important to have a plan
  • Hey, at least we put on the hand sanitizer as soon as we remembered

On the other hand, Mo has been mysteriously silent about the question of our forgetfulness.  She may have come down with something . . .

If, like us, you’re having too good a time to stop and find soap and water, at least tuck some hand sanitizer in your bag or pocket.  Maybe you’ll remember to use it!

Wish we had.





The Stink About Public Bathrooms

31 03 2010

Public restrooms!  Dirty, wet, odorous endurance trials—never fun, sometimes necessary.

Most of us detest public restrooms and we all have certain rituals we perform when we have to use them: piling on a liberal amount of toilet seat covers, hovering over the seat, using an elbow to open and close doors. Sometimes we just “hold it” until a more appealing option comes along.

Public restrooms are said to harbor an unhealthy mix of microbes. This may be true, but we were surprised to find those germs waiting in unlikely places.

Myth #1: Toilet seats are the germiest places in a public restroom.

Not so, say the experts. The germiest place in a public restroom is the floor. Also in the running are routinely touched objects: latches and sink handles.

Myth #2: The womens’ restroom is usually cleaner than the men’s restroom.

While it may smell better (due to the lack of urinals) and be more appealing (due to male grooming habits), women’s restrooms usually have higher bacteria counts than men’s restrooms, due to women spending more time in the restroom and often bringing their children with them to take care of business.

Bonus disgusting fact: germs are transported from the restroom when women set their bags and purses on the restroom floor and then take them back outside. What do the experts suggest? Use a hook or, if possible, have a traveling companion on the outside hold onto it for you.

Myth #3: The farther away a stall is from the door, the less used it is.

Actually, most people believe this and use the stalls that are farthest from the door. The cleanest stalls are usually the ones closest to the door.

Myth #4: Air dryers are more sanitary because you don’t have to push a lever/button.

Surprisingly, not so! Air drying machines blow germy air directly onto your hands, your clothes, and into the air you breathe.

Myth #5: Squatting is safer than using a cover or just using a bare seat itself.

Maybe, but squatting doesn’t allow the bladder to be fully emptied, putting you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #6: I can hold it, I guess! No big deal.

Holding it for too long also puts you at risk for a urinary infection.

Myth #7: Bathrooms harbor germs you don’t find in normal settings.

Bathrooms have the same germs you come into contact with everywhere else by shaking hands, touching rails, and opening doors.

Myth #8: All my rituals are useless and unnecessary.

There’s nothing wrong with turning off the faucet and opening the door with paper towels. No one is going to laugh at you for using a paper toilet seat cover. Rituals are there for comfort and do contribute to your health. You don’t need to pretend a public restroom is the same as the one you have at home, but it might be easier to “go” if you aren’t thoroughly disgusted by your surroundings. Just be sure to lather those hands after you’re done!

Share





World Pneumonia Day

28 10 2009

World Pneumonia Day logoMore young children die from pneumonia each year than from any other single cause—including war, famine, or any other disease.

How did this happen?  It’s preventable and treatable. How did we get to where we are today while allowing this to continue?

We lose a child to pneumonia every 15 seconds, a total of 2 million children a year.  That’s unacceptable.

We know how to fight back against pneumonia, but we just aren’t doing it. Children’s lives can be saved by increasing vaccination, antibiotic treatment, and breastfeeding and by practicing thorough, frequent handwashing and reducing indoor air pollution

November 2nd is the first annual World Pneumonia Day. A global coalition has formed to take on this killer. It is our hope that, if we all pitch in, we’ll swiftly work ourselves out of a job.

 Save the breath and the life of a child. Please join us.

  • Visit the World Pneumonia Day website for more information.
  • Join the cause on Facebook to spread the word about this disease. Ask your friends to do the same.
  • Contact your elected officials, make sure they know the facts about pneumonia, and encourage them to take action.
  • Donate funds to provide vaccines or to train community health workers to reach families in need who are too far from clinics.

Do one of these things, or do them all. Do something and save a child.



Share





Antibacterial soap – yes or no?

10 09 2009

You gotta love handwashing.  Water, soap, rub, and rinse.  Too easy and gets rid of lots of germs.

The question seems to be: do we need to use antibacterial soap?

Natural soap contains fatty acids that allow oil and water to come together more easily, which in turn allows the water we’re using to carry away the germ-infested oil and grease on our hands.

In the 1990s, antibacterial soaps came on the market for home use.  It seems like using them would be a no-brainer, but experts can’t agree on this.

One concern is whether long-term and widespread use of antimicrobials is contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.”

Environmental experts are voicing concern about the long-term effects of triclosan and other chemicals used in these antibacterial products, which are building up in our waste water system, and ultimately being dumped into the environment where they disturb the natural ecosystem by killing desirable and important microbes.

In addition to questions about the environmental impact, the actual effectiveness of these ingredients in household soaps is now in doubt.  Most experts agree that antibacterial soaps are unnecessary in a healthy home setting, and may actually do more harm than good.

A 2004 report in Annals of Internal Medicine found that in a 48-week randomized double-blind study, there was no statistical difference in illness symptoms between the families that used exclusively antibacterial products, and the families that used exclusively non-antibacterial cleaning products.

Share