Everyone in the world of modern communication has heard about H1N1 influenza or the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920. Now, we have the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. This newly identified coronavirus belongs to the same group of viruses as SARS, MERS, and others, which have been identified over the past couple of decades. To protect one’s health in these circumstances and in everyday living, changes in personal hygienic behaviors will promote respiratory health and minimize contact with contaminated surfaces.
Humans have reason to fear and prepare for influenza pandemics, especially given that an estimated 50 to 100 million people died in the Spanish Flu pandemic, a total equal to one third of the European population. Many deaths were from secondary illnesses, such as pneumonia or tuberculosis, which is instructive, as surface contamination with respiratory secretions either directly or indirectly will create contact transmission as people touch their faces and other surfaces.
There are simple behaviors that can keep one from getting these illnesses or minimize one’s chances of getting them. These habits can effectively avoid or minimize community-acquired illnesses throughout the year. With practice, nearly all who do will see a significant drop in their colds and other respiratory illnesses. As well, these are highly effective methods for improving one’s general fitness and health.
HERE’S HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR RESPIRATORY HEALTH
- For one day, pay attention to all of the surfaces your hands touch in public settings: bathrooms, buses or trains, workplace surfaces, etc. Remind yourself of the people who have also touched these surfaces and of the poor hand hygiene of many people.
- Improve your hand hygiene, which consists of both handwashing and hand sanitizing. Hand SANITIZERS kill bacteria, but not viruses: this is a common misunderstanding. HANDWASHING removes bacteria, viruses, and physical soiling from hands. Thorough handwashing is always the preferred method.
- Sneeze or cough into your inner elbow, which covers and contains your coughed secretions and keeps material from your hands.
- Minimize touching your face unless your hands have been recently washed.
- Knuckle it: use your knuckles on keypads for ATMs or other access: do not use your fingertips.
- If you must use a public pen for a signature, promptly sanitize your hands after using it.
- Do not touch straps, poles, or any part of a bus or train when commuting. If you must steady or reposition yourself, on exiting the vehicle immediately sanitize your hands and then wash your hands at your next opportunity.
- Always wash your hands when you return home (see handwashing technique below).
Proper use of hand sanitizers means that you cover your hands with enough solution to briskly rub over the hands, then allow them to air dry. Hand sanitizers are not meant to be a substitute for handwashing, but are used when handwashing is not convenient or unwarranted. Handwashing is a better method of hygiene than is hand sanitizing. Handwashing should always be used when one has soiled hands. The best practice is to WASH YOUR HANDS more often.
PROPER HANDWASHING includes:
- turn on faucet and wet dirty hands with water first (soap is too harsh on your skin unless first diluted)
- apply enough soap to adequately wash hands
- wash all surfaces of hands briskly and thoroughly: palms, finger tips, back of hands, wrists, and between fingers
- wash all hand surfaces by rubbing vigorously with soap and water for at least 20 seconds: sing “Happy Birthday” or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” 3 times until you have learned the proper length of time
- turn off faucet with paper towel or use your elbow if towels are unavailable
- dry hands thoroughly
- do not touch surfaces or door handles when you exit the bathroom: instead, use a paper towel, your coat, or your foot
if you handwash frequently, consider using a non-scented lotion after handwashing to maintain skin integrity, as frequent use of soaps can cause micro-breaks in the skin of the hands and these can provide access to bacteria or viruses. Once you begin to practice these simple methods, you may notice others’ lack of proper hand hygiene, especially when using public facilities. You may also be surprised by a drop in colds or other community-acquired infections and illnesses.
Simple practices support one’s general health – and the health of the community. Choose to improve your hand hygiene and elevate your wellness.