As we approach flu season, the media will remind you again and again to wash your hands frequently. They say it will prevent the spread of germs. But washing your hands isn’t enough. What you do after you wash your hands determines whether or not you’re really protecting yourself.
When you wash your hands you decrease the number of bacteria on them, but this doesn’t mean they’re gone. If your hands are still damp, some of the bacteria remain and are more easily transferred from one surface to another through the moisture. After you wash your hands, you most likely dry your hands, right? Well, this can determine whether you’re going to spread the bacteria or prevent it.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology examined several different methods of hand drying. They wanted to know the effect each method had on transferring bacteria from hands to other surfaces. Their conclusions were surprising.
The researchers found that two methods can actually increase pathogenic bacteria. The two ways? The first was obvious: not drying your hands thoroughly after washing. But the second was a surprise. Using a conventional electric hand dryer, like the ones in public restrooms that blow hot air, can encourage the spread of bacteria.
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What happens when you rub your hands together during the drying process, like many people do when using a hot air dryer? And like I used to do before I read this study? Some of the bacteria that live in the upper layers of the skin migrate to the surface where, added to any remaining bacteria, they can move from one surface to another.
The most effective method of keeping bacteria in check? Either dry your hands with paper towels or use electric hand dryers without rubbing your hands together. Before you stop, make sure your hands are dry, not damp.
It’s important to wash your hands frequently with soap and water to prevent pathogenic bacteria — and viruses — from contaminating you or others. But it’s just as important to dry them well with paper towels.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand
Wiley — Blackwell (2010, September 7). Is hand washing enough to stop the spread of disease? ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 8, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/09/100907071353.htm.