FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- It's easy to wash your hands, but also easy to do it wrong, or ineffectively.

Proper hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of illness and disease.

Documented studies show that normal human skin is colonized with two types of bacteria. One is the resident germ that works to keep you healthy; the other is the transient germ that's picked up from others and can cause you to get sick.

Performing hand hygiene removes germs through friction. You can perform hand hygiene by washing your hands with soap and water or by using an alcohol hand sanitizer.

Alcohol hand sanitizer can be used:
• For routine cleaning anytime your hands are not visibly dirty
• When you come in contact with contaminated objects in the environment
• Before and after you come in contact with someone sick
• Whenever you have physical contact with another person's skin

Soap and water should be used:
• When your hands are visible dirty
• Before eating
• Before preparing food (after touching raw meats like chicken and beef)
• After using the restroom
• After touching an animal or a pet
• After contact with any body fluid like vomit, urine or blood

Now that you know when to use soap and water verses alcohol hand sanitizer, how do you do it the right way?

The proper steps to performing hand hygiene are:
• Wet your hands with warm water
• Apply soap to your hands (a liquid soap is best, germs can live on a bar of soap)
• Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 seconds. You can say the ABC's or sing the Happy Birthday song twice to ensure that you have washed long enough.
• Be sure to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers, and don't forget to scrub along your nails.
• Rinse your hands well to remove all the soap
• Dry your hands thoroughly
• Use a towel to turn the facet off and to open the door to exit

The proper steps to use Alcohol hand rubs:
• Apply the product to the palm of your hand
• Rub your hands together
• Be sure to scrub all surfaces of your hands and fingers, and don't forget around your nail beds
• Continue rubbing your hands together until they are completely dry
• It takes about 25-30 seconds for the product to dry on your hands

So, what's the big deal about hand-washing? Remember that everything you touch has been touched by someone else, so please, wash your hands properly to prevent the spread of germs.

For more information about hand washing, contact the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital Quality Management Division at (573) 596-0442.

(Editor's Note: Christina Relyea, RN, BSN, is a former Infection Control Officer at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital.)