Handwashing Is One Way to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

soapy hands under running water
March 16, 2020, 9:51 am | Anirudh Naig, Angela Laury Shaw, Shannon M. Coleman
AMES, Iowa – COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, has been in the news around the world and now is a rapidly developing public health situation in the United States. COVID-19 infection can show up two to 14 days after contracting the virus, and people with the infection may show symptoms including fever, cough and shortness of breath.
What can Iowans do to protect themselves from this virus? Three Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists recommend one simple and important method: Properly wash your hands. Proper handwashing is critical for combating COVID-19, note Anirudh Naig, Angela Shaw and Shannon Coleman.
Naig is a food safety state specialist and associate professor in the ISU Department of Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management. Angela Shaw is a food safety state specialist and associate professor in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition. Shannon Coleman is an assistant professor and state specialist in the ISU Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.
The specialists recommend washing your hands often, using the following five steps every time.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. You should not use hand sanitizer if you have visible soil or debris on your hands. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry (a minimum of 20 seconds).
Posters depicting proper handwashing procedures (in English and Spanish) are available for free from the Extension Store at https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/12559. Also see 5 Myths of Handwashing at https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/12564.
Naig, Shaw and Coleman note that the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing your hands:

  • Before, during and after preparing food.
  • Before eating food.
  • Before and after caring for someone at home who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound.
  • After using the toilet.
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet.
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste.
  • After handling pet food or pet treats.
  • After touching garbage.

The ISU Extension and Outreach specialists suggest calling your doctor if you experience any symptoms of COVID-19 or have recently traveled to countries that have been identified as COVID-19 hotspots (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/index.html).

About the Authors: 

Anirudh Naig

Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management

Angela Laury Shaw

Food Science and Human Nutrition

Shannon M. Coleman

Food Science and Human Nutrition
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