Despite 'Fox' anchor buzz, experts say science is clear: Wash your hands

Doctor explains dangers of dirty hands, right way to get them clean

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – Comments from a "Fox and Friends" anchor that have gone viral have prompted questions about whether handwashing is truly necessary.

Health experts agree: it is.

Some reports say anchor Pete Hegseth was only joking with his co-anchors when he said, "I don't think I've washed my hands for 10 years," and then added, "Germs are not a real thing. I can't see them, therefore, they're not real."

Whether he was kidding or not doesn't matter to health experts -- who say the dangers of not washing your hands are no joke.

Mayo Clinic's Family Medicine & Pediatric Physician Dr. Alva Roche Green takes handwashing very seriously. In a special report several years ago, she told News4Jax that washing or not washing your hands can mean life or death for some of the most vulnerable in our population.

"Imagine that happens to a newborn baby or to a child that has congenital heart disease. I've seen those children get viruses, what we call respiratory syncytial virus or RSV for short, because it's so hard to say, or the flu virus. And those children will actually die from those infections because their immune systems are compromised or they don't have a normal heart and lungs," Green warned.

Green has seen the dangers first hand.

"Nothing is harder than looking into the face of that parent of that child when you've done everything you can for 15 or 20 minutes to try and resuscitate a child who's respiratory status is declining from something as simple as RSV, the common cold or the flu. It's devastating," said Green.

Green said people may not understand the importance of washing their hands simply because it hasn't affected them.

"I guarantee you that the parents of that child that I took care of 15 or 20 years ago, they remember that, I bet you they wash their hands a little bit better," Green added.

Proper handwashing

What people may not realize is there a systematic way to properly and effectively wash their hands.

"Most people are doing it wrong," said Green. "It's very simple." 

Green said you first want to wet your hands. The soap doesn't do any good if your hands are dry because part of the point of using the water is it's going to wash things away.

"It's got to get into the crevices and all your fingerprints and all the divots in there," Green explained. 

Green said that you want to wash for 15 to 20 seconds, which doesn't seem like a long time, but it is a lot longer than most people realize. 

"You want to wash the front of your hands, the back of your hands, your fingernails," she explained. "You want to get in all the cracks and crevices that we have. And if you just put soap on, wash and go, you're not getting everything that's in there."

The one thing you do not have to worry about when washing your hands is the kind of soap you are using or the temperature of the water.

"It doesn't matter if the water's hot or cold. It doesn't matter if it's an anti-bacterial soap or a regular soap. Studies have shown that there is not a significant improvement in the reduction of bacteria on the hands, whether the soap is routine regular soap or anti-bacterial," explained Green.

Step-by-step (CDC):

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

  • By washing your hands the correct way, doctors said, you can protect yourself from several infectious diseases. According to the CDC, researchers in London estimate that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented. 

    The CDC also reports that about 1.8 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world.

    Use of hand sanitizers

    If soap and water are unavailable, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to clean hands.

    "It is a good quick way and they do decrease the amount of bacteria on your hands," Green explained. "What they don't do is what the water does. The water washes it away."

    Green added if you use a non-alcohol based hand sanitizer, it's not going to be as good.

    "That's why in hospitals, we foam in, foam out with sanitizers. We wash our hands, we have infection control practices, we want to minimize the infections of the patients we take care of," Green said.