• The best way to stay healthy

  • There's a simple, no-cost way to guarantee continuing good health. I suspect you know what it is — but even so, you probably don't do it regularly. Let's change that.
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  • There's a simple, no-cost way to guarantee continuing good health. I suspect you know what it is — but even so, you probably don't do it regularly. Let's change that.
    I'll start with this question. When is the last time you washed your hands? Not just rinsed them off quickly after using the bathroom, but vigorously washed them for 15 to 20 seconds under warm, running water, with lots of friction and soapy lather.
    Not saying? Okay. Do this. Look down at those hands of yours. Now, bring one hand close to your face, palm forward and gaze at your nails. Peer under one or two nails. And? If you detect even a tiny bit of under-nail grime, you are definitely not washing your hands well enough. There are other and better ways to determine that — but for the moment, let's use this approach.
    Hand-washing is the single most effective way to prevent infection and disease. Nothing else comes close. As older adults, our hands and nails should be so clean they smell like the soap we washed them with a few minutes or hours before — hands so clean we could eat with them and not use any utensils. Wait a minute ... we do that even when they're not clean. Maybe you'll do that this very week.
    Let's say it's Thanksgiving Day. The turkey is about to be carved, and you snatch a just-out-of-the-oven nibble. Yum, that's good. Maybe you place a succulent piece in your kitchen helper's mouth because he wants a taste and his hands are busy carving. In the process your fingers get a little greasy — so you wipe them on your apron — after which you finish setting the table.
    Or maybe this is the scene. It's later in the day. Stomach full, you lean back from the table and pat the dog's head (he's probably been underneath your chair all throughout dinner waiting for that moment). Maybe you indulge him by rolling the ball he offers (that would be the ball he brought in from the yard just before dinner was served).
    Play ended, you start to grab a cookie from the dessert tray as it goes by. Just as you do — a sneeze hits you. It's a big sneeze. (For the record, research suggests spray from a sneeze can contain 40,000 infectious droplets and travel 95 mph. There's more of this kind of information at www.commoncold.org. And just in case you want even more data, try www.cdc.gov, where might learn that "80 percent of infections are spread by our hands," and germs can live on the hard surfaces you touch for up to 24 hours.)
    But I digress. Your sneezing fit has ended. You pluck another cookie from the tray (the same tray you sneezed upon a few minutes earlier) and you pass it along.
    You have created your own house-sized Petri dish. It is much more likely that colds or some form of seasonal flu will develop in gathered groups of friends and family (especially those who are very young, very old or have compromised immune systems).
    And they thought all they were getting was Thanksgiving dinner.
    Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.
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