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Hand hygiene: The importance of proper hand-washing

Hand hygiene is the cornerstone of infection prevention.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Man washing hands, studio shot.

A reoccurring theme that has been present during the COVID-19 pandemic is hand-washing. However, we shouldn’t just be washing our hands – we should be practicing proper hand hygiene by scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. 

“Hand hygiene is the cornerstone of infection prevention. It is the simplest and most effective method to prevent infections,” said Kristofer Harris, MPH, RN, infection control practitioner at UT Physicians.

The two main ways to perform correct hand hygiene are by washing your hands with soap and water and by using an alcohol-based sanitizer. Anytime your hands are visibly soiled, it’s best to use soap and water. The entire process should take anywhere from 40 to 60 seconds. After applying soap and water, be sure to wash the entire surface of your hands. Common areas that are missed during hand-washing are the thumbs, fingertips, and between fingers. Once your hands are rinsed, use a single-use towel to dry them off and turn off the faucet.

Alcohol-based sanitizers are good to use on the go or when you can’t get to soap and water immediately. “The sanitizer you use should contain at least 60% alcohol to be considered effective. When applying, use enough to cover the hands up the wrist and rub until completely dry,” said Harris.

Without realizing it, people touch their eyes, nose and mouth countless times a day. Unfortunately, our eyes, nose, and mouth are also the main gateway through which germs enter the body. By practicing proper hand hygiene, we can help significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19, a coronavirus disease.

For more information about hand-washing and its benefits, visit the CDC website. To learn additional COVID-19 facts, read our FAQ.

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