Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)


How to prevent a cold? Wash your hands

Today's health tip is cheap, easy, stunningly effective — and involves neither perspiration nor green leafy vegetables.

Go wash your hands.

Right now. Use soap.

And do it again whenever you pick up after the dog, change a diaper or the cat litter, shake hands with a bunch of people, get ready to eat or prepare a meal, or take out your contact lenses — and for heaven's sake certainly whenever you use the restroom.

And I don't mean just passing one hand under the faucet on your way to the door.

Maybe I sound like your mother. But I also sound like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization, and the county health inspectors who check out our restaurants and plenty of other smart people who cannot comprehend why we all won't do something so simple, yet so powerful.

Global Hand Washing Day (really!) was Monday, and when you consider the evidence it's a wonder we don't have Hand Washing Awareness Month with soapy white ribbons festooning every available surface:

• The CDC says a leading contributor to the 1.7 million health care-associated infections every year in the United States is, you got it, poor hand washing.

• In China, Colombia and Egypt, hand-washing campaigns cut primary school absenteeism due to diarrhea and respiratory infections by as much as 50 percent in recent years. Wonder what such an effort would do here?

• Flu season is upon us, and in addition to a flu shot, hand washing is among our best defenses.

• Yet a recent survey found four in 10 adults don't wash up after sneezing, coughing or blowing their nose. A third of men and a fifth of women don't wash up after using the restroom.

• Even health care providers have been known to skimp on hand washing. Hospitals are forever trying new ways to remind staff, but in the meantime always insist that anyone who walks into a loved one's hospital room wash up first (hand sanitizer is fine, too).

I started thinking a lot about hand washing on a recent day, before lunch with friends at Meze 119, a fine vegetarian bistro in St. Petersburg.

I went to wash my hands before lunch (naturally!) and was greeted in the restroom by a familiar tune.

I thought it was the Beatles classic about hand-holding, but some clever person had refashioned the chorus to say, "You better wash your HAAAANDS!''

Dean Hershkowitz, general manager and sometime-chef at the restaurant his family owns, told me later that he has collected songs about hand-washing to play in the restroom since getting the idea from a South Florida restaurant. He even has had customers ask him to burn discs.

Yes, the songs are a lot more fun than those "employees must wash hands'' signs, but they're also a firm way to stress the message for customers, too.

After lunch, I went back to work. Within an hour, I received an alert from the health department: viral meningitis was reported at a local elementary school.

This is not, fortunately, the fungal meningitis we've read so much about in connection with contaminated steroid injections, nor is it as serious as bacterial meningitis.

But it's not good. And, says the CDC, it's most commonly caused by enteroviruses, which can be spread when someone changes a diaper or uses the toilet and doesn't wash up properly.

So, one more time: Go wash your hands.

Charlotte can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @SuttonTimes.

Charlotte Sutton I Health and medicine editor

Terry Tomalin I Outdoors/fitness editor

Jan Brackett I Designer

Eve Edelheit I Cover photo

To advertise: Call (727) 893-8535.

How to prevent a cold? Wash your hands

10/19/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 19, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. No. 21 USF Bulls roll over Temple to stay undefeated


    TAMPA — They emerged from Raymond James Stadium's southwest tunnel on the 11-month anniversary of their public humiliation at Temple.

    Bulls tailback Darius Tice, who rushes for 117 yards, is elated by his 47-yard run for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 10-0 lead.
  2. Fennelly: USF thrashes Temple to stay unbeaten; too bad not many saw it in person



    No. 21 USF ran its record to 4-0 Thursday night with some payback against Temple, a 43-7 trouncing, no contest, as if anyone cares, at least judging by the paltry crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Where was everybody?

    Bulls cornerback Deatrick Nichols (3) celebrates with teammates after making a defensive play during the first half.
  3. Former Ray Tim Beckham's over being traded, or is he?

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — As the Rays reunited Thursday with Tim Beckham for the first time since he was dealt July 31 to Baltimore, it became very clear that not everything in assessing the trade is as it appears.

    Tim Beckham, here in action Monday against the Red Sox, has hit .310, with 10 homers and 26 RBIs since going to the Orioles.
  4. Bucs probe how to fix deep-ball chances missed vs. Bears


    TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.

    QB Jameis Winston says he’s focused on the deep-ball chances to DeSean Jackson he missed in the opener: “We left a lot out there.”
  5. Rays journal: Ugly first inning dooms Andriese, Rays against Orioles (w/video)

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Rays manager Kevin Cash said before Thursday's game that RHP Matt Andriese was among the pitchers who would most benefit from a strong finish to the season.

    Matt Andriese has a tough first: hits to four of first five batters, leading to three runs, the only ones he gives up in six innings