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Wash your darn hands, people -- it’s the best way to stay healthy

More cases of flu are being reported, and it’s a major health concern in Duval and Clay counties. The risks are even higher in Putnam County, according to the latest Florida Flu Review from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Health experts say the first line of defense is to keep those hands clean. The first week of December is National Hand-Washing Awareness Week.

What’s most concerning about the CDC’s flu review is that health officials are noticing an uptick in flu cases, especially among children.

Of the recorded flu cases, 65% occurred in primary or secondary schools, 13% of flu cases occurred in day cares, and 9.7% occurred in long-term care facilities.

There have been 25 influenza-associated outbreaks reported this flu season. Last year, six deaths were associated with influenza. So far, no one has died from the flu this year.

And it’s the simple chore of washing your hands that can keep you and your family healthy, especially during flu season, which runs from October to May.

Help the little ones

But, according to Dr. Frank Esper, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s, when it comes to our tiniest family members, we need to pay special attention.

“The youngest children, the 1- and 2-year-olds, are not very good hand-washers,” he said. “They generally have a hard time working with soap and water and doing the whole hand-washing sequence. That’s where alcohol-based sanitizers help; they tend to be much better for the smaller children.”

Esper said once children have reached school age, they are better able to wash their hands correctly.

Common mistakes

What most people fail to realize is that improper handwashing leaves them susceptible to germs. The most common handwashing mistakes include not washing long enough and neglecting the dirt and germs under the fingernails.

“Most people are doing it wrong. You wet your hands first because the soap doesn’t work with dry hands. The soap needs to get into the fingerprints and the crevices, and you want to wash for 15 seconds, which doesn’t seem like a long time, and then you want to wash the back of your hands, the fingernails, the cracks and crevices,” said Dr. Alva Roche Green, Mayo Clinic family medicine and pediatric physician. “But if you put a little soap on, wash and go, you’re not getting everything in there."

Esper recommends washing hands with soap and water for even longer -- at least 20 seconds -- and making sure both hands are covered with soap.

After hands are thoroughly rinsed, dry with a clean towel. Even the best handwashing techniques are often worthless if you skimp on drying your hands because germs love to breed in moisture.

It’s important to note, that in spite of the widespread belief that you need hot water to kill hand germs, lukewarm or even cold water does the job just a well.

Esper said hand hygiene is important year-round, but especially during cold and flu season.

Germs can easily be transferred from person-to-person when we touch things like doorknobs, money or even other people.

What kind of soap?

With so many soaps available nowadays, it can be difficult to know which to choose.

The good news is, folks don’t need anything fancy or expensive to keep hands clean and germ-free.

“There’s certain soaps that are called antibacterial soaps, or antibiotic soap with antibacterial compounds added, but really, all soaps are antibacterial,” said Esper. “You don’t need soap with antibacterial or antibiotic labels; just a regular, good, old, generic soap will do just as fine as the expensive ones.”

If soap and water are not available, Esper said, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be effective as well.

The CDC recommends using a product that contains at least 60% alcohol and to rub it over all of the surfaces of the hands until dry.