One of the dumbest and funniest comments I recently read on Facebook was a guy who when asked why more of us aren't sneezing into our elbows replied, "Because elbows are harder to wash than hands!" Was he being real? I don't know. He could have been making a silly joke. But, the comment hit me. People are always commenting to me - "Oh, you are one of those!" One of what? "One of those who sneeze into your elbow!" I have also been part of heated discussions about when and how to wash your hands. I am going to share my personal practices here, not because I know I am right, because I have no idea how many germs I am touching, avoiding, washing away, or keeping from spreading, but because I do know that I don't get sick very often anymore when I once was sick multiple times a year. All I know is something works and if my sneezing and hand washing practices are part of that, I am going to spread the word - NOT THE GERMS!
Let's talk sneezes and coughing first. Being a visual person, this is what I imagine. Someone lets out a big sneeze or cough- there's a cloud of gray mist that spews out from his mouth, widening and spreading as it gets further from his face until it is a fog of germ-laden mist slowly dropping and spattering on everyone and everything in its path. Imagination? Exaggeration? A little, but only a little. Studies have found that a sneeze can travel 100 mph. Pretty sure mine are that powerful! For the small, quiet, mumbling voice I have, people are always shocked at the loud force of my sneezes. That's a lot of ground and surface coverage, no matter how big a sneeze or cough it is!
Ok, so we know we should cover that sneeze or cough. But, why the elbow? Well, it turns out germs like to hang around, lingering on surfaces much longer than we thought possible in the past. Depends on the germ/virus, of course, but these little one-celled beings are so darned good at evolving to fit the environmental requirements for survival why be cavalier about how long they will last on that door knob? If we sneeze into our elbows, we won't then touch our money, the door handle, the phone receiver, the desk, etc. with the body part that's full of germs. Just try to answer the phone or turn the door knob with your elbow! It's simple, the elbow spreads fewer germs. I also like how muffled those big giant sneezes of mine sound in the elbow versus my hand! Not sure how to do this? Let Elmo show you. Anytime, I can get The Muppets involved, I'm happy !
Ok, so you only managed to sneeze or cough into your hand. It happens. We can't all be perfect. How to wash so you don't contaminate everything you touch and grab hold of a few extras left there by your co-worker or family member: I grab a clean tissue, if I need to open a door or touch something with my germy hand. Once at the sink, I get my towel first. I use the toweled hand to turn on the faucet. This is the same thing I do after using the restroom. Towel first, turn on the sink. I've seen other people supposedly wash their hands - not much effort and likely not much result. So, if I am making the effort to wash my hands, then I am not going to touch the surfaces these not so conscientious folks have touched. If the sink is automatic, I still grab my towel first. That way once my hands are clean, I am not touching the towel button.
Washing the hands is just 15 seconds of water flowing and rubbing. Warm water is best. Soap is helpful. But, the true benefit comes from the rubbing and the flowing - think of it as clearing away those germs! I then use a towel to open the door or my hip. No need to touch my now pristine hands to a questionable surface. Do this many times throughout the day. Those alcohol-based gel hand cleaners are NOT as effective as a good hand washing. Really! And, the anti-bacterial based gels are actually creating stronger, resistant germs. Please stop using them!
I read through this and start to think I sound a bit like a germophobe. I'm not really. In general, I try to just live through the day with as few worries as possible, taking good care of my body, so it can just fight those things I am exposed to in normal activity. However, there is always someone in our midst with a cold or the beginnings or endings of a flu bout, touching things we touch, sneezing or coughing into our space. With a small amount of time and a little conscientiousness, these are the germs we can avoid spreading. And, these are the germs we can wash away!