2016-02-01 / OnCall

In Good Hands

Evan Bell, M.D.

Q: My sister is adamant about making sure her children constantly wash their hands with antibacterial soap, but her kids are always sick. Does antibacterial soap disrupt important natural processes?                                                                                  

A: Unfortunately, kids and sickness tend to go hand in hand, especially this time of year. To my professional knowledge, there is no known disadvantage to washing one’s hands too frequently. What you may be referring to is this: There have been studies completed that show exposing children to germs may help strengthen the immune system to protect against disease later in life. However, it does not mean that washing frequently with antibacterial soap will likely disrupt any important natural process in building up the immune system to fight infection.

The best offense is a good defense. Good hand hygiene is essential, and it is our best protection against disease. Hand hygiene is best accomplished by cleaning hands thoroughly with soap and water or by applying an antiseptic product, such as alcohol-based liquid, foam or gel. Both methods reduce the number of germs on your hands, thus decreasing the chance of infection. If hands are soiled, a hand wash with soap and water is needed.

To perform a good hand wash, you must do more than run water over your hands. Moisten your hands and apply soap. Apply enough soap to produce lather, and vigorously rub all hand surfaces together at least 15 seconds. Pay particular attention to areas between the fingers and under and around fingernails. Rinse hands under running water, and dry hands thoroughly using paper towels.
When soap and water are not available, use an antiseptic hand rub that contains 60 to 90 percent alcohol. Spread thoroughly over your hands and rub until dry.

Evan Bell, M.D.
Infectious Disease

Mount Nittany Physician Group

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