So You Think You Know How To Wash Your Hands?

The worst fear for most road warriors is the fear of falling ill. International travellers from countries that have iffy and hard-to-comply-with travel insurance rules — India, for one — have it worse. An Indian businessman travelling in the USA, for example, simply cannot afford to fall ill without a generous support system in place.

One of the most common ways to catch a cold, and then have it blossom into wondrous diseases, is to touch infected surfaces — say, the hand rails of subway stairs in New York or anywhere else — and then dig your nose.

For years, smart travellers have had hand sanitizer with them and have been super aware about not touching their face. Even the reflex action of scratching one’s nose is kept in check.

When we think of preventing and fighting infections, we probably think of vaccines, antibiotics and aseptic techniques. But, before all those things existed, there was hand washing.

For years, every restaurant in New York City has had this sign in the bathrooms.

Germs are everywhere, which means they can also be on your hands. Whether you picked up some germs from a contaminated surface, raw meat or feces from people or animals, this means you’re at risk for developing an infection and spreading an infection to others.

Hand washing is a simple, quick and effective way to remove germs from your hands — preventing infection and illness. In fact, studies have shown that promoting proper hand hygiene within a community reduces:

Respiratory illnesses, including the common cold

The number of people sick with diarrhea

Certain illnesses in at-risk populations (such as those with weakened immune systems)

So, in a time of pandemic, everyone needs to be aware and safe. And the first step is to wash one’s hands — properly. 

And for those who did not know there is a “properly” to “wash one’s hands”, here’s some advice.

How you should wash your hands

Soap your hands

Lather both of your hands entirely with soap — this includes between your fingers, under your nails and the backs of your hands.

Scrub your soapy hands while counting to 20.

Count quietly.  Don’t sing “Happy Birthday To You” twice. Or once. Especially not to a mirror in Dusseldorf Airport unless you want to be taken for a looney bin.

Once you’re done, rinse your hands. Dry your hands using a clean towel or better, use the blow dry thing. Use (unsoiled) tissues if you don’t have a dry towel.

Keep in mind, the most common mistakes people make while washing their hands are not scrubbing their hands long enough and not drying their hands completely.

“And when should I wash my hands?” asked someone innocently.

The answer is “Always”.

More specifically,

After using the bathroom

Before eating food

Before, during and after food preparation

While caring for someone who is sick

After diaper changing or cleaning up after a child

After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose

After touching an animal, an animal’s food (including treats) or an animal’s waste

After handling trash

And not forgetting hand sanitizer – of importance only second to washing hands.

There will inevitably come a time when you know you need to wash your hands but soap and water aren’t readily available. In these cases, it’s okay to turn to hand sanitizer. But here are a few of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to using hand sanitizer.

Check that it contains at least 60% alcohol (check, and then double-check, the label)

Rub the gel over the entirety of both of your hands

Do continue rubbing until your hands are completely dry (about 20 seconds). Again, don’t sing “Happy Birthday…”. You’re a road warrior. Not a doofus.

Don’t expect it to work as well if your hands are visibly dirty.

There’s plenty of advice on the internet about washing one’s hands, but as a traveller, you can never be too obsessive about keeping one’s hands clean and germ free.

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