My friend has a sign in her bathroom stating, "Wash your hands and say your prayers because God and germs are everywhere." While we may have differing opinions on religion, we can all agree hand washing is important. In fact, it is one of the most important and easiest ways to stay healthy. When it comes to sharing, let's continue to do so with opinions, ideas, and resources; but let's wash away the germs.

Here is Dr. Nina's What You Need to Know about hand washing and stopping the spread of infection:

Where are germs?

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Everywhere. You name it and they lie lurking - from doorknobs to phones to computer keyboards to handrails to tabletops. Fortunately, they are too small to see and that helps us cope (it would be frightening otherwise). Unfortunately, this results in "out of sight, out of mind." Additionally, germs find us irresistible. It is estimated as many as 10,000 bacterial species inhabit our body. And, if you add up their weight, it is equal to about 3 pounds; similar to what our brain weighs. As Inspector Gadget would say, "Wowzers!"

How germs spread

Our fingers are akin to "weapons of mass contamination." Those 10 digits can transmit germs from our nose, mouth or eyes (by sneezing, coughing or rubbing, respectively) to others. Not to mention, our fingers also can spread germs to the food we eat.

One of the most horrific moments in my life was when I learned about "fecal oral transmission" of germs in my microbiology class. This means germs from stool enter our mouth, usually due to poor hand-washing habits. In fact, a single gram of human feces (equal to the weight of a paper clip) can contain 1 trillion germs. "Wowzers!"

When is it best to wash your hands?

•Before cooking, preparing, or eating food

•After using the restroom (even in your own home)

•After changing your child's diaper

•After sneezing, blowing your nose or coughing into your hands

•After taking out the garbage

•After feeding pets or cleaning up their waste

•If you think you should. Don't be stingy.

How can washing your hands be that important?

Studies have shown hand-washing education can decrease the number of people who get sick with diarrhea by 31 percent and the number of respiratory illnesses in the general population by 21 percent. "Wowzers!" During flu season (which we are in), handwashing is critical to decrease viral spread.

What's all the fuss about?

Although 95 percent of the population says they wash their hands after using a public toilet, in reality it is closer to 67 percent. Furthermore that number does not necessarily mean they are properly washing their hands. "Wowzers!"

What is the correct method to washing your hands?

•A quick rinse will not clean them. And you must use soap.

•First wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap.

•Next rub your hands vigorously together and scrub all surfaces. Don't forget your fingernails. Get soap and water under your nails.

•Continue rubbing your hands for 20 seconds. To avoid shortchanging yourself, sing the entire song "Happy Birthday" twice.

•Rinse hands well under running water.

•Dry your hands using a paper towel or air dryer. If possible, use your paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the door.

Can you wash your hands too much?

Although the experts say no, in reality many of us face dry and cracked hands that can make us want to avoid handwashing. This is especially true in the wintertime. To avoid this, use moisturizing soap and apply moisturizing lotion repeatedly throughout the day.

So here's a pop quiz: What is one of the quickest and most effective ways to stay healthy? Wash your hands. Those fingers function as a conduit for the passage of germs. And we want to stop those germs dead in their tracks. By the way, did you hear the joke about germs? Sorry, I don't want to spread it.

Dr Nina Radcliff, of Galloway Township, is a physician anesthesiologist, television medical contributor and textbook author. Email questions on general medical topics to her at


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