This weekend during the Great Reno Balloon Races held Friday through Saturday, the health district will offer a booth at which kids and adults can use the gel product Glo-Germ and then will be challenged to wash their hands. After washing, district staff will shine a black light over hands to see if any Glo-Germ lights up, showing missed spots.
The county board of health recently proclaimed September as Clean Hands Month to remind the public that they can help prevent the spread of bacteria and communicable diseases by thoroughly and frequently washing their hands. The health district offers a few activities this month, including hosting a booth at the Great Reno Balloon Races, to educate families and with a particular emphasis on children this year.
“People don’t realize that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has said that the most important thing people can do to prevent the spread of disease is wash their hands,” said District Health Officer Dr. Mary Anderson.
The health district recommends formulating proper washing techniques, using soap and water and washing for about 20 seconds, or as long as it takes to sing the alphabet, is most effective for killing germs.
Anderson said hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative if there is limited access to soap and water.
“Alcohol-based sanitizer doesn’t work against every single organism and overall it’s less beneficial than soap and water, but it’s still effective because there’s friction when you’re washing and there’s an obvious washing away down the drain of the organisms,” Anderson said.
According to the CDS website, www.cdc.gov, nail hygiene is equally important as keeping the skin on the hands clean. Fingernails can harbor dirt and germs and lead to spread of infections, such as pinworms. Keeping instruments, such as clippers, sterilized is also key.
Bryan Wagner, senior environmentalist in the health district’s food education program, said most illnesses are transmitted via hand contact with other people.
“From what I’ve looked at, it’s roughly about an 80 percent transmission rate, maybe even higher,” Wagner said. “It’s extremely easy to transmit through an inanimate object if you have something in your hand and you sneeze and touch the desk, then someone else touches the desk and puts their fingers on a glass, then you get Norovirus.”
The district’s objective this month is to keep the message about proper hygiene simple, Wagner said, especially in its targeting of children to practice good habits.
Anderson said this year the district is concentrating on children because they usually don’t wash as frequently as adults and therefore are more likely to harbor germs.
“Consider how many factors this affects: It affects an adult being able to go to work, it affects kids being able to go to school and once people have to start taking time off because they’re sick, there’s a multiplying factor that can get bigger and bigger, depending on how many people are involved,” Anderson said.
To encourage children to be mindful of having clean hands, the district is holding a poster contest for children. Local schools will receive information on different issues regarding the importance of good hand-washing and students can participate in coloring contests that will be judged according to grade level, from first through eighth graders, and winners will receive a goodie bag. Younger children, from 1 year to 5 years old, can also submit a colored picture.
While the county celebrates Clean Hands Month in September, Oct. 15 has been designated as Global Handwashing Day and Wagner said many countries around the world are beginning to participate as developing nations are gaining access to proper sewage systems.
“We really want to promote that throughout the world,” Wagner said. “It has an impact on us when somebody gets sick, boards a plane and then they transmit an illness to the United States. … H1N1 was definitely an example of that.”
Anderson said she and her staff want to encourage parents to reinforce proper hand-washing skills to their children at home.
“I think hand washing is right up there with tying shoes and learning your ABCs and other skill sets,” Anderson said. “People don’t know how to do it correctly. You need to use both soap and water and allow time for it take effect.”