Hygiene Tips to Keep You Well this Winter

Most Americans learn good hygiene as kids—wash your hands after you use the bathroom, cover your nose when you sneeze, use a paper towel or sleeve when you touch door knobs or handles in public places, etc.

But these good habits are especially important during the winter season when more people are indoors, making for more crowded spaces, and cold temperatures and stress lower immune resistance. Good hygiene can stave off infections.

Essential Hygiene Habits

The viruses that cause colds and flu (and many types of bacteria, for that matter) must penetrate mucous membranes to incubate. That means, simply touching a doorknob that someone with a cold just sneezed on does not mean you will get a cold. Research shows that thorough hand washing is extremely effective in the reducing viral and bacterial pathogens on your hands, which reduces your risk for actual infection.

For thorough hand washing, you must:

  1. Use soap
  2. Rub soap on the fronts and backs of hands and between your fingers for at least 30 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday”)
  3. Rinse with warm water
  4. Pat dry

To avoid over-drying and cracking, which provide more places for viruses and bacteria to fester, use a light lotion after washing.

In addition to thorough hand washing, essential hygiene habits also include:

  • Minimizing contact with surfaces with high pathogenic thresholds (like public door knobs and push bars, public restroom stall locks, etc.). Use a paper towel to create a barrier between your skin and germ-laden surfaces.
  • Keeping eating cutlery, glasses and straws to yourself. You can share your food and drink, just not out of the same cup or from the same spoon.

For more tips on preventing seasonal illnesses, talk to your care providers at UNM Truman Health Services.