Handwashing is an easy and effective way to avoid catching the common cold or a seasonal flu. But not using enough soap or washing your hands too quickly might not get rid of all of the germs—bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. What’s the right way to wash your hands?
This Ministry of Health public service video from Democratic Republic of the Congo demonstrates how to wash your hands with six separate steps. Their urgent goal: To to end the spread of the Ebola virus in the region. But NPR asks chief medical officer Dr. Mark Gendreau, “Is this a lesson we all need to learn?” His answer: “Well, it is elaborate — but it’s actually the right way!”
Science tells us it’s got to be a minimum of 20 seconds. That feels like a lifetime to everybody. But that’s the way it’s got to be if you want to be 100 percent correct and ensure your hands are sanitized from any potential microorganisms…
It’s really targeting the areas where the microorganisms [that make you sick] tend to concentrate on the hand. The region between the fingers, for instance, and then the thumb. We also know that you need to try to get the top portion of the hand, where the knuckles are. And then that last step, where you saw [the instructor] rubbing the tips of his fingers on the palm of his hand — what that’s doing is trying to rub some of that soap underneath the fingernails. Because that’s another common area for microorganisms. So these six steps really get all of those areas and get them very thoroughly.
He continues to explain that he uses something close to the video’s recommended method and, even as an emergency department physician working with patients, he hasn’t gotten sick in 12 years. This is an impressive statement given that 80% of all infections are passed by human hands. How does the soap and water work?
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“You’re using the laws of physics to help sanitize your hand: Microorganisms are encapsulated in a lipid membrane. So the foaming of the soap and the rubbing action is going to dissolve that lipid membrane and basically kill the microorganism.”
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