Sanity in Sanitary

By Anna Sachse

Posted February 5, 2009 in Mind Body Spirit

Do you remember a sing-songy radio PSA from when we were kids that went something like this: “Wash your hands after going to the bathroom; wash your hands after changing baby too; because we don’t want you getting hepatitis; and we don’t want hepatitis to get you”? 


Probably not, because no one beyond the people I grew up with in Eugene, Oregon seems to have any idea what I’m talking about. No matter. Kids these days can groove to the rock and roll stylings of “Henry the Hand”—a.k.a. Champion Handwasher, an anthropomorphized cartoon hand that wears jeans and red sneakers and “teaches how hands can spread disease” to the tune of “Willie and the Hand Jive.” Henry’s website ( seems a little Howie Mandel-ish, if you ask me. On the front page it states that “If WE ALL comply with the 4 Principles of Hand Awareness there will NOT be a Pandemic!!” (all emphasis, including two exclamation points, is original). It kind of makes me feel like my arms are two magic wands that only produce bird flu, AIDS or mad cow disease. 


But even so, I do have to admit that we probably all should wash our hands more. After all, failing to wash my hands before touching my “T Zone” (the mucus membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth) was likely what caused me to get that nasty case of crusty-mouth-sore-causing impetigo I wrote about a couple months ago. It’s also the easiest way to pass the common cold, flu and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea, says the Mayo Clinic. Colds are usually no big deal, but some people with the flu, particularly the very young and the very old as well as people with chronic medical problems, can develop pneumonia. In fact, this combination of the flu and pneumonia is the eighth-leading cause of death among Americans. Inadequate hand hygiene can also contribute to the spread of food-related illnesses, such as salmonella and E. coli infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 76 million Americans get a food-borne illness each year, approximately 5,000 of who die as a result. Those numbers are nothing to freak out about (failure to wash isn’t the only culprit), but they’re also nothing to sneeze (in your hands) at.


Henry’s four principles of hand awareness are as follows: 1) Wash your hands when they are dirty and before eating; 2) Do not cough into your hands; 3) Do not sneeze into your hands ; and 4) Above all, do not put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth. 


But that’s a little simplistic. According to the CDC, you always want to wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after changing diapers, before and after tending to someone who is sick, after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, after handling an animal or animal waste, after handling garbage and both before and after treating a wound. The best way to wash your hands is to wet them with warm running water, apply soap and then rub them together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces continuously for 20 seconds—imagine singing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Or just count to 20. When your time is up, rinse hands well under running water and then dry them using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door.


If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell. Like Henry, you too can help “spread the word, not the germs.”


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