We are surrounded by germs – some good and some bad. Since it’s not practical to live in a bubble, what can we do to keep ourselves and our families healthy?

Dr. David Chansolme, medical director of Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology with INTEGRIS Health Systems, has three simple words for you: Wash your hands.

“Without question, it’s the easiest and most effective form of infection prevention,” explains Chansolme. “I don’t think there is a single more important thing you can do for you, your family and those around you.”

The Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention agrees and shared the following alarming statistic. In a study published in 2003, researchers in London estimated that if everyone routinely washed their hands, a million deaths a year could be prevented. Hand washing is so important because our hands are frequently near our mouths and noses, the most common and easiest way for germs to enter the human body. 

Chansolme sums up the findings well by saying, “It’s good for you and it’s good for the herd.

“It’s even easier with alcohol-based hand sanitizer,” he adds. 

But can you take this healthy practice too far? Chansolme says yes. Excessive scrubbing can cause micro-cuts that can open your body to bacteria leaving those with weakened immune systems vulnerable.

The CDC says how you wash your hands is important. They instruct that you should scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds and to remember the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails.

“It’s important to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, when you’re visiting loves ones in hospitals, any time you are dealing with animals, before eating and when you’re prepping food,” advises Chansolme. “It’s especially important for kids because they touch everything.”

Why is showering important? For the same reason we wash our hands: To rid our bodies of the buildup of harmful bacteria. The CDC cites a study that says within the first 15 minutes of bathing, the average person sheds 6 x 106 colony forming units of (CFU) of Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria the causes staph infections.

“Showering is important to an extent, but not as important as hand washing,” says Chansolme. “In fact, showering can make certain skin conditions worse.”

Shaving can also be harmful for those prone to staph infections and people with diabetes, says Chansomle.

“We Americans are very obsessed with being cleaned,” adds Chansolme. “I have friends that shower four or five times a day, and that’s just not necessary.”

Keeping your nails short prevents germs from accumulating under the nails; that area can be a breeding ground for germs. Chansolme recommends keeping nails short, but not too short. Cutting nails too short creates openings, allowing bacteria into the body.

“Do not chew your nails,” warns Chansolme. “It spreads bacteria into your mouth and can cause infections.”

Your ears are also an area where moderation is key. Cleaning excess wax is fine, but aggressive cleaning can be harmful.

“That wax protects against and gets rid of bacteria,” says Chansolme. “The skin in the ear canal is very tender and can easily get inflamed or infected. A little bit of ear cleaning is okay but over cleaning is counterproductive.

“We have certain body functions going on that are healthy. We all have bacteria in and on our body that we need to be healthy,” he cautions. “It’s a balancing act.”

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