The T-zone — eyes, nose and mouth — is the main portal of entry for viral infections such as influenza, colds and pneumonia, as well as bacterial infections including strep throat, tuberculosis or tonsillitis.
And because we touch our faces multiple times every waking hour — rubbing our eyes, scratching a nose or biting a ragged cuticle — we risk infection from any germs our hands come into contact with.
The solution: Wash your hands regularly and effectively, say UCI Health infectious disease experts.
The power of hand hygiene
“Eighty percent of communicable diseases are transferred through touch,” says Darcy Koch, RN, MSN, manager of health epidemiology and infection prevention for UCI Health. “I sincerely believe that hand-washing is the No. 1 action we can take to stop the transmission of these diseases.
“Respiratory and diarrheal illness can be reduced by 40 percent if you practice good hand hygiene.”
So what is good hand hygiene? Koch recommends these do’s and don’ts.
To avoid getting sick:
- Wash your hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
- Before, during and after preparing food
- Before eating
- Before and after caring for someone who is sick
- Before and after treating a cut or wound
- After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
- After using the toilet
- After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
- After touching garbage
- Skip the hand sanitizer and go straight to soap and water if your hands are grossly contaminated, such as after changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.
- Sneeze or cough into your sleeve or elbow, rather than your hand (kids are remarkably good at this Dracula move).
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds, scrubbing palms, backs of hands, fingers, spaces between the fingers, thumbs and under the fingernails, which is where the greatest concentrations of germs linger.
- When using hand sanitizer, pour a small amount into the palm of your hand, then dip the fingernails into the gel on both hands before proceeding to rub down the hands in the same way you would with soap and water.
- Keep your skin healthy and moisturized, because dry, cracked skin tends to trap germs.
- Touch your face. Become conscious of how often you’re doing it, and especially avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Go out when you are sick. Stay home from work and ask someone to pick up your medications or other items when you’re under the weather to avoid spreading infection.
Sanitizing high-touch areas
Improving sanitation in other ways, including cleaning surfaces we touch daily, is also a good practice. Koch suggests:
- Using an alcohol pad to clean items such as office phones and cell phones, which go with us everywhere, from public bathrooms to restaurants.
- Remember to toss the tissue you used to open the bathroom door, to guide you down a handrail or to push an elevator button. Too often, people forget and touch these tissues or towels to their faces, exposing themselves to even more germs.
Find a balance
Don’t overdo it, though. It’s impossible to sanitize everything. Still, frequent hand-washing and making an effort to avoid touching your T-zone can keep infection at bay.
“Good hand hygiene is important as we head into cold and flu season where there is a high concentration of respiratory illness,” Koch says. “And it’s relevant all year long. We have to incorporate it into our daily habits.”