Colds, viruses and flu abound at this time of year, but there’s a very simple way to keep them at bay: wash your hands.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), a large percentage of foodborne disease outbreaks are spread by contaminated hands, and appropriate hand washing practices can reduce the risk of foodborne illness and other infections.

When should you wash your hands?

To help avoid illness, you and your children should wash your hands:

  • After using the bathroom
  • After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose
  • After changing a child’s diaper or cleaning a child who has used the bathroom
  • Before, during and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after touching someone who is sick
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After working and playing with your hands

When in doubt. Wash your hands.

How to wash your hands

Washing your hands is easy. Just follow these five simple steps from the CDC:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

What about hand sanitizer?

Parents often give their children hand sanitizer because it is convenient and quick and many believe labels that say “kills 99.9 percent of germs” as fact, but hand sanitizer is not the best option for fighting infection.

If soap and water are not readily available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, but the bottom line is that washing hands with soap and water is the best way to get rid of germs.

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Xiaoyan Song Xiaoyan Song, PhD, MBBS, MSc, is Chief Infection Control Officer at Children's National Hospital and a Professor of Pediatrics at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

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