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A Simple Secret for Staying Well: Wash Your Hands

You need soap, water and 20 seconds.

The single most important thing you can do to keep from getting sick and to stop the spread of disease-causing germs is to wash your hands — often. All it takes is soap and water, 20 seconds of scrubbing hands and wrists, and then a good rinse.

Viruses that cause colds and the flu most often are transmitted on the hands. People commonly catch colds when they rub their nose or their eyes after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus. By washing your hands frequently, you wash away germs that you may have picked up from other people or from contaminated surfaces.

Parents can encourage their children by setting an example. Wash hands often in front of children to teach them that hand washing with soap and water is more than a chore — it's an important way to prevent colds, sore throats and other infections. Also, because dirty hands often can carry germs, teaching children to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose and mouth also will help prevent illness. Make hand washing fun for kids by singing “Happy Birthday” twice while they rub their hands together with soap and water. This way, you’ll be sure they washed for a good 20 seconds.

Hand washing takes on an especially important role during the winter months, when infectious diseases such as the flu are in season. (If you haven’t already, consider getting a flu shot.) You also can protect your health during cold and flu season by getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating nutritious foods and drinking plenty of fluids. Also, remember to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and avoid rubbing your eyes and nose. Stay away from crowds when possible, and don't share food or drinks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and then wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner. This practice will help avoid spreading germs to others. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder instead of your hands.

The bottom line is that hand washing is easy and effective. This season, with proper hand washing, you can protect your health and help prevent the spread of colds and flu to others.