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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

Proper hand washing technique: how to wash your hands properly

New products like antibacterial soap and hand sanitizers clamor for our attention, but plain old soap and water is still a good way to clean your hands, reports the January 2007 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

In studies, washing hands with soap and water for 15 seconds (about the time it takes to sing one chorus of "Happy Birthday to You") reduces bacterial counts by about 90%. But even people who are conscientious about washing their hands often make the mistake of not drying them properly. Wet hands are more likely to spread germs than dry ones.

Today, almost half of the hand soaps on the market have an antibacterial additive. The big question has been whether use of antibacterial soaps will worsen the problem of antibiotic resistance. Even if antibiotic resistance weren’t an issue, results from studies suggest that antibacterial soaps available to consumers don’t add much to hand hygiene. The findings are a useful reminder that antibacterial soaps aren’t the all-purpose germ fighters that many people think they are.

The hot new products in hand hygiene are alcohol-based rubs, sold as hand sanitizers. The big advantage of these cleansers is that you don’t need water or a towel, so you can use them anywhere. But alcohol doesn’t kill everything. That’s why it shouldn’t be the only cleaner available in health care settings. To be effective, the rubs need to come into contact with all surfaces of your hands. For that reason, studies have shown that using small amounts is really no better than washing with plain soap and water.

The Harvard Health Letter suggests these steps to make sure you clean your hands thoroughly, whether you’re using soap and water or a hand sanitizer:

  1. Spread cleaner over hands.
  2. Clean backs.
  3. Clean fingertips.
  4. Clean fingernails.
  5. Clean thumbs.
  6. Clean between fingers.

Also in this issue of the Harvard Health Letter

  • The handiwork of good health
  • Lung cancer: Not just for smokers
  • Do you worry too much?
  • By the way, doctor: Could postherpetic neuralgia affect my face if I didn't have a rash there?
  • By the way, doctor: Should I quit drinking tea to avoid getting kidney stones?
  • The emotional side of Alzheimer's disease

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.