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SALT LAKE CITY -- In recent months, we've talked regularly about how important it is to wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of the H1N1 flu virus. When it comes down to it, there's something else you can do that's just as important.
During cold and flu season, many of us are already in the habit of washing our hands so often that the skin dries out. So, we're well-trained with that germ fighting practice, but how many of you are touching your face right now? That's a habit we need to break.
It's the kind of thing we all do, all day long, without thinking about it. We touch our faces and everything else around us.
"Your hands just touch everything; handrails, everything," said Carolyn Burgess, who is visiting Salt Lake City from Texas.
KSL News talked with Burgess Monday afternoon at The Gateway. Without thinking about it, she touched her face five times in five minutes.
"If we were going to eat now, I would go wash my hands just because we've been out shopping and touching stuff," she said.
That's important, but we need to keep our hands away from our faces too.
Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley discovered we do it a lot. On average, people touch their faces about 16 times an hour. Some people less, others as many as 100 touches per hour.
Utah's deputy state epidemiologist, Dr. Rachel Herlihy, said that helps spread the flu in respiratory droplets.
"Droplets that come from our mouth, our nose and our eyes end up on surfaces, and then when we touch those surfaces and bring them back to our mouth, nose, eyes. That's how transmission can occur," Herlihy explained.
That's why hand washing is so important. Herlihy said washing can interrupt the that transmission of germs.
"It's part of the reason that hand washing is so important too," she said. "So, if you can wash your hands frequently, even if you are touching surfaces, you can interrupt that transmission process."
University of Utah student Evander Cavazos said he's very conscientious about keeping his hands clean and avoiding germs. But, he said it's hard to keep his hands away from his face.
"I touch my face a lot, so I try to think about not touching them, or washing my hands, or using the sanitation dispensers that are around campus," he said.
Herlihy recommended keeping tissue handy.
"Using tissues, Kleenex, having those at hand is always a good idea," she said. "Use a surface like that, instead of your hand to wipe your eyes, wipe your mouth, wipe your nose."
The flu germs don't penetrate our skin. They need to invade our eyes, nose or mouth. If we stay away from our faces, we eliminate a lot of the risk.