DR. WALLACE: I'm a "health freak." I eat properly, work out every other day and usually get nine hours of sleep every night. These are things I'm in control of. I would like for you to inform your readers and especially me on how to avoid catching a cold or the flu. Nothing I have done seems to prevent these nasty viruses. Most years, I catch the flu. Can you help? — Healthy, Santa Fe, New Mexico
HEALTHY: This information on avoiding a cold, flu or other infections, comes to me courtesy of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. According to this highly regarded health clinic and hospital, a little soap and water used many times per day can prevent what may take loads of time and money to cure.
Thorough hand washing isn't simple. You must apply soap to your hands and rub vigorously for at least 20 seconds to dislodge the microorganisms (germs). Then, rinse them away with a thorough flush of clean water.
The water temperature isn't essential. Warm the water enough (to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit) to cut through grease. Water hot enough to kill germs would also harm your hands. The goal is to dislodge and flush.
Germs tend to accumulate around your cuticles, beneath your fingernails and in the creases of your hands, so concentrate on these areas. Rinse all soap from your hands to remove as many microorganisms as possible.
It's virtually impossible to keep your hands germ-free, but there are times when it's critical to wash your hands. Always wash:
—Before you handle or eat food.
—After you visit the bathroom.
—After changing a diaper.
—After handling uncooked food (especially meat).
—After handling money.
—After blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing into your hand.
—After playing with a pet.
—After handling the garbage.
Germs accumulate on your hands as you perform daily activities. By not washing your hands, you can acquire or pass on a host of ailments, from the common cold to more serious diseases like dysentery (an intestinal infection) or hepatitis (inflammation of the liver). Inadequate hand washing causes most cases of diarrhea and vomiting.
Overall, infections claim more lives than any other disease except heart disease and cancer. Pneumonia and the flu are the sixth-leading cause of death in the United States.
Americans and Canadians spend more than $20 billion annually to fight infections. More important than the dollar figure is the pain and suffering that a few pennies worth of soap and a little time could often prevent.
You are a very wise young woman to be a neat freak concerning your health. Your question has given me the pleasure of reminding our readers to take the time and spend a few cents to avoid serious illnesses: Wash your hands often whenever possible!
Dr. Robert Wallace welcomes questions from readers. Although he is unable to reply to all of them individually, he will answer as many as possible in this column. Email him at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Robert Wallace and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.