The key to staying healthy during the holidays and beyond could be in your own hands. Literally.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone wash their hands after using the toilet, nose blowing, sneezing, coughing or handling pets. Other key times to wash up are before eating or handling food, and when you come home from work, shopping or any activity.
Do you always wash your hands after using the toilet? Even if no one is watching? Those questions on a behavioral quiz remind us that sometimes we do what we know we should in public, but not in private.
Frequent and careful hand washing, according to the CDC, is the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself against infectious respiratory and food-borne illnesses.
During the cold and flu season, families with children in school or day care can expect that youngsters will be carrying home bugs nearly every day. These germs don't just disappear - kids deposit them on door knobs, light switches, telephones, TV remotes and refrigerator doors.
On a typical day in winter, up to 60 percent of the surfaces in your home are infected with some type of bacteria. Rather than try to disinfect every surface, the CDC recommends that you wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading the germs to your mouth, nose or eyes.
When it comes to eating and food preparation, the importance of hand washing may be even more crucial.
The 24-hour diarrhea and vomiting commonly known as "intestinal flu" is nearly always a virus that is transferred from hand to mouth.
Kitchens contain many hidden dangers. Meat, chicken and eggs often have infectious organisms that are killed with proper cooking. If you open a package of raw meat, then touch salad vegetables, dishes or utensils, you are spreading the contamination.
Even when you break an egg into the frying pan, it is recommended that you wash your hands before resuming other food preparation tasks. A news story in the Nov. 22 issue of the Steamboat Today warns that an increasing number of eggs are infected inside and out with salmonella.
Think about what your hands have done today. How many surfaces and objects have you touched? How many other people are touching those same doorknobs, stairway railings, faucets, papers, chair arms, tables, soft drink dispensers and other items? It is important to be aware of where your hands have been and where they're going. If in doubt, wash them.
By washing, the CDC doesn't mean a brief rinsing. Lather your hands thoroughly, especially around the nails. Rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds - or as much time as it would take you to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice.
After rinsing thoroughly with warm, running water, be sure to dry with a clean towel. That dish towel that has been hanging by your sink for a week is not clean. Sometimes a disposable paper towel is best. Then, using the towel and not your bare hand, turn off the faucet. When you exit the bathroom, don't open the door with your newly washed hands use a paper towel or your sleeve as a buffer.
If you don't have access to water and soap, using an alcohol-based hand cleaner is the next best thing.
There is nothing controversial or debatable about hand washing. Everyone knows that it is common sense to keep your hands clean. By consistently practicing good hygiene - even when no one is watching - you may be able to prevent an illness.
Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center.