Stay healthy with clean hands and a flu shot

December 6, 2023 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is emphasizing the importance of both handwashing and nationwide influenza vaccinations.

  • Be sure to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with both soap and water.

  • While the flu vaccine is most important for young children and people over 65, everyone over the age of 6 months should get one.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, people around the world had a renewed focus on washing their hands thoroughly. Influencers created videos about how to properly clean one’s hands, and hand sanitizer became a hot commodity.

Now, nearly four years later, much of the population is back to washing hands ineffectively, and doctors are still urging patients to get their annual influenza shot. It seems we could all use a refresher on the importance of both practices!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has that covered: It has designated Dec. 3-9 as National Handwashing Awareness Week, and Dec. 4-8 as National Influenza Vaccination Week for Americans. Let’s take a look at why handwashing and flu shots are so important.

The importance of handwashing

Handwashing remains the No. 1 way you can prevent the spread of germs and protect yourself from getting sick. While some people think it’s enough just to pass your hands under water, there are actually two important elements that often get overlooked: soap and time. Soap is necessary to kill the germs and bacteria that can multiply on your hands, and the CDC recommends that you wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to give the soap time to do its job.

How often should you wash your hands?

According to the CDC, you should wash your hands many times each day, especially:

  • Before, during and after preparing food.
  • Before and after eating.
  • 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 a diaper 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.

Steps for effective handwashing:

Follow these five steps to thoroughly wash your hands:

  1. Wet them with warm, clean water and apply soap.
  2. Lather the soap by rubbing your hands together. Be sure to get the soap on both sides of your hands and under your fingernails.
  3. Scrub your hands and arms up to your elbows.
  4. Rinse your hands to wash away the soap and germs.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or an air dryer.

If soap and water aren’t available, you can use alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

Why you should get a flu vaccine

Influenza is an infection of the nose, throat and lungs. Unlike the common cold, which develops gradually, the flu virus comes on suddenly. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Chills and sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat

“Influenza causes predictably more severe, longer lasting and more debilitating symptoms than the common cold,” says Rob Lichfield, D.O., a Providence family medicine physician in Spokane, Washington. “It also causes far more deaths each year. Many who have had confirmed influenza will note from their experience that the overall illness was ‘much worse’ than a common cold.”

While it’s especially important for young children over the age of 6 months and adults over the age of 65 to get a flu vaccine, this immunization is vital for other people, too. “We lose young, healthy people to influenza every year at our hospital,” says Dr. Lichfield. “It’s also important to contribute to herd immunity by having as many people vaccinated as possible.” 

The influenza vaccine doesn’t protect against every strain of the virus, but it provides immunization from many of them during flu season. “Influenza is a dynamic and elegant monster,” Dr. Lichfield says. “It is the ultimate ‘moving target’ for the talented and brilliant people whose lifework each year is trying to develop the vaccine. The vaccine makes us notably less likely to contract influenza or spread the disease. It commonly makes our symptoms less intense and the condition less dangerous if we do get influenza.”

Schedule your flu shot

Providence offers an easy way to schedule your flu shot — either at an ExpressCare location, a neighborhood location or your primary health care provider. Schedule your vaccination today and protect yourself and your loved ones!

Contributing caregiver

Rob Lichfield, D.O., family medicine physician for Providence Urgent Care in Spokane, Washington.

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Related resources

How to get through your kid’s flu

RSV, flu and COVID

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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