It’s a balancing act I thought worth undertaking to lessen the germ load on our hands. Germs, the microorganisms not visible by the human eye, yet present everywhere. Viruses and bacteria are lurking in broad daylight just waiting to infect their next host. But how simply does this infection take hold?
When you grab onto a railing, shopping cart or shake someone’s hand, you transfer these germs onto your hands. If they merely stayed on the skin of your hands, they would pose no threat to your health. You potentially turn harmless germs into disease causing germs every time you TOUCH YOUR FACE! When you rub your eyes, stick your fingers in your mouth or venture into a nostril, you are transferring these germs into an environment where they can multiply, thrive and migrate to the mucus membrane linings of your throat, chest and intestinal tract.
Hand washing is still one of the best defenses against communicable diseases. However it’s not always practical and even in this day and age of pocket-sized antibacterial gels and hand wipes we can’t eliminate them all, all of the time. With germ transmittal, it’s equally important what you don’t do- DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!
For many touching their face is an unconscious habit. Like any habit, the way to eliminate it is to become aware of how often you do it. Are you a nail biter? Do you rub your eyes often, play with facial piercings, pop zits? It’s estimated that we touch our face 16 times an hour giving these bugs approximately 400 opportunities a day to enter our bodies and make us sick.
A group of researchers suggests there’s a part of the prevention equation that public health folks don’t stress often enough: If you kept your fingers out of your mouth-nose-eyes, you’d lower your risk of infection. Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center stated that the disease prevention message focuses mostly on hand washing and doesn’t emphasize how you can lower your risk of self-inoculating. They suggest public health campaigns should also teach people about how they infect themselves by touching their mucus membranes, so they become more aware of the role these behaviors could play in acquiring infection.
Dr. Jody Lanard, a risk communications expert based in Princeton, N.J. says the idea of telling people about self-inoculation makes sense because there are times when folks simply can’t wash their hands. The frequency of the commuter touching a germ-laden item and then their face outnumbers their access to hand washing.
The author of a book on hygiene says public health messages about handwashing and self-inoculation should be synergistic. “I don’t think it’s an either-or thing,” says Dr. Bonnie Henry, author of Soap and Water and Common Sense. She adds, “I always say ‘It’s not having bugs on your hands that’s the issue. It’s when you go to eat your sandwich or rub your eye. That’s when you’re going to get sick from it.’ So I think the two messages have to go together.”
Some health professionals contend that not only are we not washing our hands often enough, we are not washing our hands correctly. Dr. Stephen Dahmer MD, from the Continuum Center for Health and Healing recommends using antibacterial soap, rubbing your hands together vigorously for 20 seconds, scrubbing up to the wrist, including the back of the hands, between the fingers, and beneath the nails. In a public bathroom, make it a habit to grab a paper towel to shut off the faucet or using your elbow if you have a shirt on that covers it. When exiting the bathroom use a paper towel again to open the door and toss it into the waste paper basket as you leave. There’s no sense bothering to wash your hands if you wind up getting more potentially lethal germs on your hands in the process. You may be there to wash up but the patron opening the door before you may have poor hygiene. Even in your own home shared with family members, it’s best not to reuse a hand towel.
Become conscious of your daily behaviors that include:
The next time a bug latches onto your lungs or digestive lining, before you blame your cold on the sneezing patron sitting next to you at Starbucks or the local Chinese restaurant for your stomach bug, you should consider that you may be the prime cause of your infection through self inoculation.