Want to avoid colds? Wash your hands.

This time of year I’m closely exposed to dozens of children with viral respiratory infections. I don’t want to get what they’ve got, both because it would be unpleasant for me and because my unhappy colleagues would be forced to cover whatever time away from the PICU an infection caused me. So I do whatever I can to stay well. This may sound like simple grandmotherly advice, but really the best way to keep from spreading respiratory viruses is to wash your hands a lot.

The reason is simple. Although viruses do fly through the air to some extent when coughed or sneezed, a more important way of spread is by touch. After infected persons blow their noses, for example, there inevitably is virus on their hands. The way to get rid of the virus? Wash those hands. Hospitals use a variety of special foams and gels for doctors and nurses to disinfect their hands as they go from patient to patient, and some of these are available in stores for you to buy, but plain soap and water is as good as anything.

You can read more about handwashing here, at the official web site of the Centers for Disease Control. The bulletin has some interesting historical observations about when doctors realized infections spread this way, and it is six years old itself. It still applies, though, especially during cold season.


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