The One Simple Action That Will Keep You Healthy

Wash your hands with soap and water!


The flu season has caught many of us unaware this year. More people are sick; more people are even dying. While I continued to encourage my patients who hadn’t gotten a flu vaccine this winter to get one, there is one simple action that you can do today that will keep you healthy. Wash your hands.

This simple public health measures really works. In times like these, it’s comforting to be reminded that an action as simple as washing with soap and water can be lifesaving.

It’s not just good for the flu, however. The common cold is rampant this year – yes, I too had a virus and still have a lingering cough one month later. Rhinovirus is the source for most of our common colds. This virus can be present in our nasal secretions for up to a week, but sometimes may linger for several weeks. Studies have shown that the period of maximum contagion is within that first week. 

Common symptoms include nasal congestion, nasal discharge, cough and sore throat. Once the virus is in the air (think: coughing, blowing your nose, etc), it can live unfortunately for a while on various surfaces. Maybe you picked up your cellphone or telephone after coughing. Maybe you opened a door after blowing your nose. So many opportunities to either spread the virus around, or be exposed yourself to someone else’s virus!

This simple action of washing your hands helps, whether you actually have the flu or the common cold. Today. Washing your hands actually has a real impact in controlling the spread of these viruses. So basic, but so very effective. Just grab that bar of soap, turn on the water, sing the ABCs while you lather up the fronts and backs of your hands and in between your fingers, then rinse, dry and relax.


It wasn’t always this way. In the 19th century, hand washing was not routine. Thanks to Ignaz Semmelweis, hand washing is now a common practice. Armed with a Master’s in medicine, with a specialization in midwifery, Semmelweis studied childbirth fever in Vienna. He made the connection between this devastating postpartum illness and doctors not stopping to washing their hands with soap and water. And thus, one of the most effective public health measures in human history was born.

We can’t control many things in our life, including perhaps whether or not we get the flu or the common cold this year. But we can improve the odds with some soap and water!