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Healthy Geezer

Hand-washing is key in preventing many illnesses

By Fred Cicetti | Mar 08, 2012

[In his last column, The Healthy Geezer discussed gastroenteritis on cruise ships. In this column, he’ll  go over ways to fight infection.]

Among the most common germs are noroviruses. These give you gastroenteritis, mistakenly called stomach flu. Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach and intestines; it is not related to flu, a respiratory illness caused by influenza virus.

Noroviruses are a group of related viruses. Norovirus is the official genus name for the group of viruses previously described as Norwalk viruses.

Norovirus (the common term for the infection) spreads swiftly wherever there are crowds of people - nursing homes, dormitories, hotels and cruise ships.

Noroviruses are highly contagious.

They are the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the United States. Usually they are found in contaminated food or drinks, but they also live on surfaces.

They can be spread through contact with an infected person. How can you protect yourself from getting norovirus?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the best defenses against norovirus are washing your hands with soap and water often, avoiding handshakes during outbreaks and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

Hand washing
Hand washing is the best and simplest way to prevent infection and illness, but it must be done properly and often to be effective. Below are some tips I’ve collected from several reliable sources.

Here are the correct techniques:

• Wet your hands with warm, running water.
• Rub on soap and make a thick lather.
• Scrub vigorously over every surface of your hands and wrists for about 20 seconds.
• Use a scrub brush to get under your fingernails.
• Rinse completely.
• Dry your hands with a disposable paper towel or air dryer.
• Use the paper towel to shut off the faucet.
(If soap and water aren't available, use a hand sanitizer. These products can reduce the number of germs, but they are not a substitute for washing with soap and water. This will be the subject of my next column.)

The kitchen
Wash fruits and vegetables diligently. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them.

Avoid uncooked food as much as possible. Stick to bottled water, and don't share drinking glasses and eating utensils. People with norovirus illness should not prepare food for others while they have symptoms and for three days after they recover from their illness.

Contaminated surfaces
Clean and disinfect surfaces contaminated by vomit or stool. Use a bleach-based household cleaner. Allow bleach to stay on surfaces longer than 10 minutes.

Laundry
Immediately remove and wash clothing or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool.

If available, wear rubber gloves while handling soiled fabrics. The items should be washed with detergent at the maximum  cycle length and then dried.

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