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With flu season still in full swing and the number of cases of COVID-19 growing daily, doctors and health care professionals are reminding us proper hand washing is vitally important to prevent the spread of germs.

We've all been doing it since childhood, but are we really washing our hands the right way? The answer is probably not. And doing it properly can make the difference between staying healthy and getting sick.

"(Hand washing) is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs," says Patsy Rawding, a health services manager with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

So, what's the right way?

Use warm water and wet your hands first. Get some soap, and make sure to focus on all surfaces, not just your palms. Rub your fingertips against your palms, and pay attention to the areas between your fingers and the backs of your hands.

How long should we wash? Twenty seconds, or enough time to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.

For many of us, it's not always possible to easily access soap and water during the course of a busy day.

Hand sanitizer can be a great, portable alternative, with some exceptions.

"Hand sanitizers are effective against everything, except when you have nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. That's about the only time we would recommend hand washing over alcohol-based hand rub," says Suzanne Hennessey, infection control practitioner with the NSHA.

If you are feeling a bit under the weather, or are just getting over a cold, practicing proper respiratory hygiene is important as well.

Coughing into your elbow, properly disposing of used tissue, and either washing your hands or using sanitizer after blowing your nose are all important practices when it comes to not spreading a respiratory illness. It's also a good idea to use disinfectant wipes around your work area, particularly if you use a shared work space.

Wondering how to tell if you have coronavirus? Here's more on the symptoms.