We’re at the peak of the cold and flu season right now, and if you feel like you’re encircled by an army of hostile viruses, it’s because you are. I’ve been inundated with your emails about what you should do or take to prevent falling ill.
The single most important thing you can do to prevent colds and flu, believe it or not, is to wash your hands well and often. Now, those of us in the health care professions were taught to use hot, soapy water and scrub for at least 15 seconds. That’s what you should do. But how should you dry your hands?
Never, ever use the blow dryers found in restrooms. Through the years several scientific studies have shown that drying one’s hands with a blow dryer as opposed to paper towels actually increases the number of germs on your hands. I know the studies were all done by counting bacteria rather than viruses, and fungus, but germs all hang together. Misery loves company as they say.
Studies in the past have shown a four-fold increase in the number on people’s hands after using a blow dryer. Shocking! One recent study, done in London in 2009, found that people who used a blow dryer to dry their hands had two to three times as many bacteria on their hands as they did before washing them. Not only that, many of the bacteria were pathogenic—that is, they were the kind of bacteria that can cause disease.
The key problem is that the vents and bottoms of dryers in public bathrooms get contaminated with regular use. The dryers are kept in a warm, moist place—precisely the kind of environment that bacteria, fungus and viruses need to thrive. The dryers never get hot enough to kill the germs, just warm enough to help them multiply and thrive. In fact, the studies also found that the warm air from dryers actually helps disperse the pathogens all around the room. I’m boycotting public restrooms this week, between the toilets flushing germs all over the place, and the hand dryers blowing, I think I’ll just hold it in, LOL.
Based on the science, it’s actually better to leave the restroom with wet hands than use the blow dryer. Carry your own paper towels or just shake your hands off. And if I don’t already sound too neurotic, don’t touch the door handle on the way out. Remember, that’s touched by all the people who didn’t bother to wash their hands after changing a tampon, going #2 or whatever. I’m banishing the thoughts from my head immediately.
Keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse or pocket. Resist touching your nose and mouth. And power up your immune system.