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Proper hand-washing helps prevent spread of germs


Linda Geist
University of Missouri Extension
Phone: 573-882-9185

Published: Monday, Nov. 4, 2013

Story source:

Heather Utterback, 660-327-4158

"Extension on the Go" podcast by Debbie Johnson. Episode 84 - Hand Washing

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Wash cold and flu germs down the drain with proper hand-washing techniques. Keeping hands clean is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection and illness during the flu and cold season.

Hand-washing won’t eliminate all germs, but it reduces the transfer of bacteria, viruses and microbes, says Heather Utterback, University of Missouri Extension nutrition program associate.

School-age children spread germs when they share items in the classroom and on the playground. Disinfect doorknobs, desks and other surfaces regularly and remind kids to wash their hands at every available opportunity, she says.

Utterback educates children about the proper way to wash hands, sneeze and cough as part of a series on nutrition and food safety.

“Germs hide out everywhere,” she says as she demonstrates technique to children. “Germs are invisible. They like to move. They like to crawl up your arms. Scrub, scrub, scrub.”

To demonstrate to kids how easy it is to miss germ-filled areas, Utterback sprinkles their hands with a powdery substance called “glitter bug,” then has them wash it off. When she passes an ultraviolet light over their clean hands, the glitter bug glows to reveal missed spots.

She also shows students how to sneeze and cough into their upper sleeves, rather than into their hands. She reminds children to wash their hands whenever they sneeze or cough, before snacks or lunch, after recess, after using the restroom, and after playing with pets. “Whenever you get an opportunity, take advantage of it and wash your hands,” Utterback says.

Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, she says. Sanitizers are not as effective in killing germs, but are better than nothing.

Utterback also reminds students to keep their hands off of their faces. She describes an invisible stop sign for all areas above the neck to remind them not to touch their eyes, mouth and nose during flu season.

She recommends the following hand-washing techniques:

Wet hands. Put soap on hands, lather the soap and remove hands from the water source so the soap isn’t rinsed away.

Sing the “ABC” song twice when scrubbing. Kids often rush through washing their hands, but this will encourage at least 20 seconds of washing.

Pay special attention to the tops of the hand, wrists, fingernails, callouses, and areas between thumbs and fingers. Rub palms together. Interlace fingers and rub hands together. Scrub the back of both hands. Rub the base of thumbs in a rotating manner. Interlock fingers and rub the back of fingers of both hands. Clean fingertips on palm of both hands, paying close attention to the nails. Wash both wrists.

If you have jewelry on, take extra care to clean around these areas where germs collect. Rinse and dry hands thoroughly with a clean towel, then use the towel to turn the faucet off.