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Brush up on hand hygiene technique

Using an ultraviolet lamp and fluorescent lotion can help shine a light on hand hygiene shortfalls. The most commonly missed hand washing spots are between fingers, on the back of hands and around fingernails. (Republican Eagle photo by Michael Brun)

Back-to-school time is all about learning how to cooperate and share in a group environment.

Unfortunately, closed-off classrooms and hundreds of children make for the perfect setting to unintentionally share illnesses like influenza — which students can then bring home to share with family members as well.

There is a noticeable increase in flu cases once school starts, said Vicki Iocco, a public health nurse with Goodhue County's Health and Human Services department.

During the last flu season, Iocco said there was a drop in flu reports when schools were out for winter break, but that number shot back up as soon as classes resumed.

The flu and other respiratory infections are commonly spread through person-to-person contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means sneezing, coughing and touching the mouth, nose or eyes after coming into contact with a contaminated surface..

Once infected, a person can expect an uncomfortable week of body aches, coughing and fatigue.

For younger children in kindergarten or day care, the flu can be more serious.

As many as 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized with dangerous flu complications each year, more than any vaccine-preventable disease, according to the CDC.

One of the best ways to avoid getting sick is also one of the easiest: washing hands often with soap and water.

As simple as it may be, proper handwashing technique is something people of all ages can improve.

Iocco uses an ultraviolet lamp and reflective lotion called GlitterBug Potion to help teach hand hygiene to schools, day cares and county staff during infection-control training.

After applying the gel, students wash their hands normally. They then place their hands under the UV lamp. Any spots not properly washed will reflect a vibrant white.

Some of the most common areas people miss are between fingers, around nails and the back of hands, Iocco said.

The CDC suggests following these steps to make sure hands are completely washed:

• Wet hands with clean running water — warm or cold — and apply soap.

• Rub hands together to create a lather, being careful to scrub the backs of hands and under fingernails.

• Continue to rub for at least 20 seconds, equivalent to singing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.

• Dry hands with a clean towel or air dry.

When it comes to different kinds of soap, both liquid and bar work just fine, Iocco added.

Regarding antibacterial soap, health officials say there is no evidence showing it is any more effective at preventing infection than plain soap in most cases.

Soap has to be kept on hands for around two minutes for antibacterial ingredients to have any effect, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Antibacterial soaps risk creating drug-resistant germs, as well as pollute lakes and rivers after getting washed down the drain, Iocco said.

Soap is effective not because it kills germs, rather because it removes them them hands entirely, the MDH says. The soap and friction of hand washing lifts dirt and soil from skin, which is then washed away by running water.

Iocco said liquid and gel hand sanitizers can be an interim solution if soap and water are not available, but they should not be seen as a replacement.

"It's hand washing that really gets the germs off your skin."

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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