Flu season is upon us. The single most effective thing that you can do to prevent the flu is get a dose of flu vaccine. Vaccination decreases the risk of infection from influenza virus, makes infections less severe, reduces flu hospitalizations, and it helps keep your friends and family safe. There are other things that you can do to help prevent the flu, too. Washing your hands can help. Here are some tips for clean hands on the go.
How is influenza virus spread?
Understanding how people transmit flu virus can help you avoid spreading the flu. Flu is spread through person to person contact, touching contaminated surfaces, and through respiratory droplets in the air.
The virus enters through the eyes, mouth, or nose. It’s possible to get the flu without ever touching someone who has the flu or a contaminated surface. You can inhale flu virus by breathing in droplets in the air. According to the CDC, a person carrying flu virus can transmit it to people who are 6 feet away. This is why it’s important to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
You may also get the flu if your hands come in contact with flu virus and you touch your face. If you have the virus on your hands you can spread the flu to surfaces and other people. Influenza can survive on surfaces and objects for hours.
Washing your hands helps remove influenza virus and decrease the likelihood that you get an infection or spread the virus.
Hand sanitizer vs. soap and water
It’s common to see large hand sanitizer dispensers out in public during flu season. Is hand sanitizer as effective as washing your hands, though?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluated data from a number of studies comparing hand sanitizer vs. soap and water. According to their findings, washing your hands with soap and water is generally more effective than using hand sanitizer.
If you have the option to wash your hands, you should wash your hands. If, however, that option is not available to you, hand sanitizer works, too. Just make sure that it’s at least 60% alcohol.
Non-alcohol based sanitizers:
- didn’t work against all classes of germs
- were more likely to cause resistance to sanitizing
- slowed the growth of germs rather than killing them
- irritated the skin more than alcohol-based sanitizers
Tips for clean hands on the go
Washing your hands with soap and water is the best way to remove germs and influenza virus. If sinks with running water and soap are available, this should be your first choice.
Make sure that you wash your hands properly. While most adults realize that a quick rinse with cold water and wipe-dry on the pants isn’t enough to ensure clean hands, many still do this, and children may not know the correct way to wash hands.
Some people are in a hurry and may not want to take the time to wash their hands for a full 20 seconds. Less than half a minute is a small price to pay to prevent the flu, though, and it’s way more convenient than getting sick.
If you do use a hand sanitizer, make sure that it is alcohol-based and it contains at least 60% alcohol.
While keeping your hands clean is an important way to help prevent spreading the flu, it’s not a substitute for flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is the most effective way to prevent the flu.