I have been asked nonstop since the Swine Flu exploded onto the world scene – what is the most important thing I should be doing right now?  The nurse in me wants you all to take some deep breaths (do this while maintaining proper social distancing – six feet away from anyone), don’t’ panic and take this threat very, very seriously. But in addition to those, there are three simple things that can make a big difference and they all involve your hands.

Simple Thing #1 – Wash your hands

Twinkle-Twinkle2Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is spread by droplet nuclei that are expelled during the acts of breathing, coughing, sneezing, and speaking. If you understand that basic fact, proper hand hygiene is absolutely essential.  Everyone must be educated and reminded about through (yes, boring) hand washing. That is defined as a 20 second exercise using warm water and soap.  My favorite tune to sing while hand washing is two rousing rounds of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star…I wish it were playing in all bathrooms across the country!  Can you imagine, walking up to the sink, picking up the refrain and singing a couple of bars!?!

Simple Thing #2 – Keep your hands away from your face

Where are your hands right now?  Why do I ask? The second important act you can do is to stop touching your face.  This by the way is very hard to do. For some reason, humans love to touch their face.  This is of course how bacteria and viruses are often introduced into our nasal passages, airways and mucous membranes.  Do an experiment and just note how many times you touch your face in an hour.  It will scare you to death!

Simple Thing #3 – Sneeze and/or cough properly

Lastly, how were you taught to cough or sneeze?  Likely it was into your hands. Ick!!! How gross!!! We need to learn and teach proper cough and sneeze etiquette. Always cough or sneeze into your elbow, arm or shoulder and ideally into fabric. A very amusing, highly effective and thoughtfully designed short film is called “Why don’t we do it in our sleeves?” It can be viewed and ordered at http://www.coughsafe.com/media.html.   Consider buying the streaming licenses and place it on your company internal pandemic web page.  I guarantee that you will see it once and it will change your cough conduct.

What can you do with this information?

These three topics are a perfect theme for an impromptu department meeting in your office today. Print out this blog entry and go over each item in turn.  Show the “safe cough” film. Tonight over dinner with your family or friends, have a family meeting and discuss these simple things and how we can all help reinforce good hand behavior amongst ourselves.

When you stop and think about it – one of the most important things we can be doing with our employees, families and friends is reinforcing good behavior.  The new social faux pas will likely be coughing into ones hands!