Published on 09/03/09

Handy hygiene can help prevent flu spread

By April Sorrow
University of Georgia

Georgia and Alaska are the only two states currently having widespread flu outbreaks, particularly the H1N1 bug, according a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Proper hand washing is key to preventing the spread of flu at school and at home, said Judy Harrison, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension specialists with the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.

Cooperative Extension and the National Sanitation Foundation teach a six-step hand washing process:

1. Wet hands with warm water.
2. Apply soap.
3. Rub hands together and between your fingers for 20 seconds.
4. Pay special attention to finger nails.
5. Rinse the germs away.
6. Dry hands on a paper towel.

Scrubbing should take as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice, Harrison said.

Hand-washing techniques are typically taught through 4-H in December. Because of the threat of flu this year, school principals have requested the training earlier, said Glen Blair, a UGA Extension agent in Walton County who has reached 4,000 students with the hand-washing message so far.

UGA Extension agents across the state are similarly bringing the message to classrooms.

“Teaching kids about hand washing lets them see that they can do something to help their health,” Blair said.

With an invisible and odorless fluorescent lotion, children can see how germs spread from person to person and how improper hand washing isn’t effective in eliminating germs.

“The kids get really excited to see their hands glow. We tell them they aren’t actually glowing germs, but that it is simulating germs,” he said. “We want them to wash their hands really good before they come to school, leaving all their germs at home. And wash them as soon as they get home before eating a snack.”

Hand washing is important, but to avoid the flu Harrison recommends getting proper immunizations, too. Vaccines for H1N1 and the seasonal flu will be available this fall. Some health departments already have seasonal flu shots.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth because you can spread germs. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Toss the tissue in the trash, and wash your hands. Stay home if you are sick. Avoid contact with people for at least 24 hours after your fever has broken, without the help of fever-reducing medicine, Harrison said.

Symptoms of H1N1 are similar to those of the seasonal flu: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, head ache, chills and fatigue.

Symptoms in children that need immediate care are:

• Trouble breathing.
• Bluish or gray skin color.
• Not drinking enough fluids.
• Persistent vomiting.
• Not waking up or interacting with others.
• Irritability and not wanting to be held.
• Flu-like symptoms that improve and then reappear with fever and worse cough.

Adults should seek immediate medical help if they have difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or flu symptoms that improve and then worsen.

Flu symptoms can last a week or longer.

“Anti-viral drugs are available for treatment of the flu, but people still need to take precautions,” she said. “It is better to prevent the flu than cure it.”

For more information about flu, visit the CDC Web site Posters, stickers, games and hand-washing theme songs are available at

April R. Sorrow is a science writer with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.