Stop the flu virus in its tracks with this healthy habit


As winter approaches, a much-touted — but often ignored — practice could help keep the flu and other contagious illnesses at bay.

The first week of December (Dec. 2-8) marks National Handwashing Awareness Week, a reminder that one of the defenses a person has against colds, flu and other viruses is good hand hygiene.

"The biggest benefit of washing hands is to be able to prevent the spread of germs," said David Morgan, spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health. "You're protecting yourself, and you're protecting the people around you."

There's no shortage of places to pick up dirt and unwanted bacteria and viruses: Door handles, cell phones, money and handshakes are a few.

Four tips for good hand hygiene

The four principles of good hand hygiene, as stated by the Henry the Hand Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes the healthy habit, are: 

  • Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating.

  • Do not cough into your hands.

  • Do not sneeze into your hands.

  • Above all,do not put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth — a region of the face dubbed the "T-zone."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these guidelines for washing your hands:

  • Use soap and water.

  • Lather and wash your hands for at least 15 seconds, not specifically 15 seconds.

  • The time it takes is less important than making sure you clean all areas of your hands.

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used when there is no visible dirt on the hands. The antimicrobial activity of alcohols can be attributed to their ability to denature proteins. They kill germs quickly and in a different way than antibiotics.

  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60 to 95 percent alcohol are most effective at denaturing proteins

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