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The Number One Way to Prevent Germs Only Takes 20 Seconds of Your Time

A quick 20 seconds could prevent you from getting a cold, flu, or other infectious disease. By properly washing your hands for 20 seconds, you can help stop the spread of germs, said Julie Smith, RN, Infection Prevention Specialist at Norman Regional Health System.

Regular hand washing is one of the best ways to remove germs, avoid getting sick, and prevent the spread of germs to others. Washing your hands correctly is also important.

"Some mistakes that are made include not washing your hands for at least 15 to 20 seconds and missing areas of your hands such as thumbs and in between their fingers," Smith said. "Proper hand hygiene includes your wrist areas, thumbs, palms, in between your fingers, the backside of your hands' fingers, and your fingernails."

The 20-second rule not only applies to washing your hands with soap and water but also using hand sanitizer.

"If you are using hand sanitizer you should use enough of the product to coat the same areas as when you wash your hands and rub until all areas are dry; this process should take about 15-20 seconds as well," Smith said. "People tend to wipe off the excess which defeats the purpose of the hand sanitizer; it works best if you rub it until it is dry."

There are other simple ways you can prevent disease including:

  • The "Dracula Cough" - Cough or sneeze into the bend of your elbow.
  • Avoid touching the T-zone of your face with your hands. The T-zone includes your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Hand washing in hospitals is also important for the safety of patients, said Cindy Lott, RN, Infection Prevention Specialist at Norman Regional. The health system has a hand hygiene program in place for all its employees called, "Wash In Wash Out." All employees will wash their hands before entering and when leaving a patient’s room. Also, other employees and patients are encouraged to remind others to wash their hands frequently.

The Health System tracks the program by having observers in each department and unit watch for hand washing compliance. During the January 2014 observation reporting period, Norman Regional had an all-time high of 94 percent of staff that washed in and 96 percent of staff that washed out. The national average is 47 percent.