Southeastern Synod ELCA

Handwashing - A Very Special Gift!

December 07, 2016


Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, we are keenly aware of how fortunate we are to live in an area of the world that has modern amenities such as running water, electricity, and sanitation. Events such as power outages, broken water lines and extreme weather conditions can change this scenario in a heartbeat. The latest hurricane, Matthew, reached the Southwestern coast of Haiti on October 4 destroying communities, taking lives, leaving homes wrecked and millions of people in desperate need of emergency supplies, including water.  Since that time, fire and tornadoes have most recently affected those living in Tennessee Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. While we think of immediate needs such as clothing and housing for those who have lost their homes to hurricanes, tornados or fires, we may not think of the long-term effects of totally destroyed communities. The lack of clean water can spread bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can infect thousands of individuals. Most of the time during the winter months the primary germs that we have to worry about are the common cold and flu viruses. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the most important thing that all of us can do to keep from getting sick and spreading germs to others is to wash our hands frequently. We might think of that statement in the context of the ELCA motto, "God's Work, Our Hands!"  Our hands can be instruments for spreading or not spreading germs to others as well as to ourselves.  Studies on hand washing show that even with access to soap and clean running water, improper hand washing or the lack of it still contributes significantly to disease transmission.  Children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems are especially vulnerable to hand-transmitted illnesses.

The most common way that people catch colds is by touching their nose, eyes or mouth after their hands have been contaminated with the cold virus.  Of course the cold germs can spread directly to others through the air or onto surfaces that other people touch.  Before you know it, everybody around you is getting sick.  The important thing to remember is that, in addition to colds, some serious diseases such as hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea can easily be prevented if people make a habit of washing their hands.

When should you wash your hands?
You should wash your hands often; if statistics are correct, probably more often than you do now.  It is estimated that one out of three people do not wash their hands after using the restroom in public places.  In addition, it is especially important to wash your hands:
       Before, during, and after preparing food
       Before eating
       Before and after caring for someone who is ill
       Before and after treating a cut or wound
       After using the bathroom
       After changing diapers
       After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
       After handling animals or animal waste
       After touching garbage

What is the correct way to wash your hands?
       Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold) and apply liquid or bar soap.  Place the bar soap on a rack and allow it to drain.
       Rub your hands vigorously together to make a lather and scrub all surfaces.  Be sure to scrub between your fingers and under your nails. 
       Continue rubbing for 15 to 20 seconds or about the length of  Happy Birthday sung twice. It is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that helps dislodge and remove germs.
       Rinse your hands well under running water.
       Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.  

If soap and water are not available, an alcohol based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol is a good substitute. These sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs but do not eliminate all germs. As stated above, it is the soap combined with the scrubbing action that makes the biggest impact on removing germs from hands. To apply hand sanitizers, place a small amount in the palm of one hand and rub your hands together over all surfaces of your hands and fingers until they are dry.

December 4 - 10 has been designated as National Handwashing Awareness Week.  If you are a good steward of handwashing you are doing God's Work by purposefully helping to prevent the spread of germs at home, in the community and abroad. Join hands during this national week and celebrate having access to clean water and soap by helping to provide these necessities for those less fortunate. The Women of the ELCA's soap collection is an ongoing reminder of the need for assisting others with hand cleaning.  The Southeastern Synod Disaster Ministry and Lutheran Disaster Response are currently working to help relieve suffering from the effects of disasters both at home in the Southeastern Synod and Haiti. God’s Work with Our Hands, hearts, donations and prayers can go far to help others in the prevention of the spread of all diseases.
Stay well and don’t forget to get a flu vaccine this season! 

Connie Pearson, RN, MN
Health Ministries Task Force
Reference: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/