One Easy Way to Stay Healthy This Season
By Rebecca Cohen, RN, MS, Ed.D., MPA, HNB/BC
Adjunct Professor, Kaplan University School of Health Sciences

While an annual flu vaccination is the single best thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu virus, we all know there are many other germs out there. From the common cold to MRSA to food borne bugs, our world is literally crawling with microorganisms. Unfortunately, many of these bugs are just itching to hop a ride on your hands and placed, by you, directly into your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth.

One easy yet effective way to help protect yourself during cold and flu season is to practice good hand hygiene. Hand hygiene is at least as important as a vaccination, but you must learn to incorporate it as a routine practice into your daily life. When you consider how long you may be unable to take care of every day tasks if you get sick, hand washing is an efficient disease prevention habit.

Cleaning your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (i.e., a cleaner that you use without water) can prevent diseases that are transmitted by hand to mouth or hand to nose/eye contact. Soap acts as a vehicle to trap the germs that are loosened when you rub your hands together under water. These germs are then rinsed away by the water. The big question, however, is what kind of soap to use? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted a study of more than 200 households, some of which used soap containing 0.2 percent triclosan (an antibacterial) while others used plain soap. When compared to plain soap, the antibacterial soap appeared to provide no additional benefits in reducing the rates of colds in generally healthy people.

The CDC’s conclusion found that any liquid or bar soap works just fine in protecting against colds and infections, as long as hands are properly washed.1 In fact, some studies have found that frequent use of antibacterial soap may actually be harmful. Evidence suggests that residue-producing antibacterial soap may kill normal healthy bacteria on the skin, allowing antibiotic-resistant bacteria to take its place.

Using Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizers
While antibacterial soaps may not provide additional benefits, alcohol-based hand sanitizers do play an important role when it comes to reducing the spread of infections. These sanitizers kill germs without killing healthy bacteria, and are a convenient way to disinfect when soap and water are not available. When you buy this product, look for an alcohol-based sanitizer with an alcohol content of 60–95 percent. Apply the product to one palm, rub your hands together (making sure to reach all surfaces), and continue rubbing until your hands are dry.

Five Easy Steps for Effective Hand Washing
Regularly washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to prevent illness and infection. If your hands are very dirty or greasy, use warm to hot water to do a better job of trapping dirt and grease within the soap. Remember, the type of soap does not typically matter, as long as it lathers and spreads over the hands sufficiently to trap the germs. The CDC recommends the following procedure for good hand washing:2

  1. Wet your hands with clean water (warm, if available) and apply soap.
  2. Lather by rubbing hands together; be sure to cover all surfaces.
  3. Continue rubbing hands together for 15-20 seconds (sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head)
  4. Thoroughly rinse hands under running water to ensure removal of residual germs.
  5. Use paper towels or an air dryer to dry hands and then, if possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door.

Finally, you should always wash your hands

  • before and after preparing or handling food;
  • before eating;
  • after changing diapers;
  • after using the bathroom;
  • after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose;
  • before and after inserting contact lenses;
  • after touching an animal or animal waste;
  • after handling garbage;
  • before and after treating wounds; and
  • before and after touching a sick or injured person or any product used by them that might be contaminated.


1. Aiello AE, Marshall B, Levy SB, Della-Latta P, Lin SX, Larson E. Antibacterial cleaning products and drug resistance. Emerg Infect Dis [serial on the Internet]. 2005 Oct [date cited]. Available from
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (accessed October 2009).

Rebecca Cohen, RN, MS, Ed.D., MPA, HNB/BC

Rebecca Cohen is an adjunct professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches the course Models for Health and Wellness. She has a background in the fields of complementary and alternative medicine, education, and health care quality improvement and leadership. Dr. Cohen is trained in Quantum Touch, Reiki Level II, and the biofeedback, stress reduction technique of HeartMath.  

Dr. Cohen has worked in acute care and long term care, and served as a consultant to mental health agencies, attorneys, and the National Institute of Health, National Cancer Institute. She also worked as a Long Term Care Surveyor in the Illinois Department of Public Health and was a professor in a school of nursing. Dr. Cohen’s primary focus is preventive health, and she has developed health education programs for special target groups, corporations, elementary schools, and the community.  She has published more than 30 articles and chapters in nursing text books, and currently works as the editor of the American Holistic Nurses Association newsletter and owns a private wellness coaching practice.

Kaplan Higher Education Corporation is a division of Kaplan, Inc., a subsidiary of The Washington Post Company.

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