Q: Hey Sadie- Colds and flus are spreading around my work rapidly these days. Do you have any tips on disinfecting that will minimize the risk for catching one? -Allison
A: Hi Allison, by no means am I a healthcare professional, but cold & flu season is always tough because it seems like no matter what you do you end up catching something anyway. Practicing good hand hygiene though is always important regardless of what ‘season’ it is. Oddly enough, the #1 thing you can do to reduce your risk of catching a cold is to wash your hands. And remember, it’s more than just a quick rinse off. It is best to wash your hands with soap and clean running water for 20 seconds or approximately as long as singing Happy Birthday to yourself.
When should you wash your hands?
• Before preparing or eating food
• After going to the bathroom
• After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has gone to the bathroom
• Before and after tending to someone who is sick
• After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
• After handling an animal or animal waste
• After handling garbage
• Before and after treating a cut or wound
Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests six ways to help stop the spread of germs. (1)
1) Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
2) Stay home when you are sick.
3) Cover your mouth and nose.
4) Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
5) Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
6) Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.
In addition to these steps, it is important to make sure that common surfaces have been disinfected and sanitized at work and at home. Everyone has heard of disinfecting doorknobs, computer keyboards & mice, refrigerator handles, light switches, etc. But there are other things that we commonly touch or carry that we don’t even think about disinfecting. Greatist.com has a list of The 21 Germiest Places You’re Not Cleaning and gives tips on how you should clean them. (2) Examples from Greatist.com include:
1) Handbags: A study of office workers found that women’s purses were one of top three dirtiest things they touched throughout the day. In fact, one (very small) study found E. Coli on 25 percent of purses tested (out of a 50 purse sample). What to do: Common sense (don’t rest it on the bathroom floor) and regular cleaning are enough to minimize risk. Wipe leather purses with a disinfectant wipe every few days, and put washable ones through the laundry (or send to the dry cleaner) as often as once per week.
Similar items: Gym bags, laundry bags
2) Phones: Studies have repeatedly cited mobile phones as risk factors for infection, and we largely have our own unwashed hands to blame. (One study found fecal bacteria on 1 in 6 phones!) What to do: The clean up is simple: Power down the device once per week (more during cold and flu season) and wipe with a disinfectant cloth.
3) Headphones: Those little buds aren’t just at risk from what they pick up in the bottom of that gym bag — using them for just one hour has been shown to coat headphones with bacteria from the ear. What to do: Using water with electronic accessories is tricky, but audiophiles can clean detachable rubber nubbins (technical term) by soaking them for 15 minutes in a vinegar and water solution and letting them sit for 10 more minutes in water before drying. For the un-detachable kind a gentle mixture of soap and water should be used on the plastic exterior, and a clean toothbrush can remove any lint from the grill.
Recent articles on hand hygiene that put hand washing in perspective or at least make interesting
- Handwashing: Why are the British so bad at washing their hands?
By Denise Winterman, BBC News Magazine.
- Ew La La! New Poll Sullies French Reputation for Personal Hygiene
By Bruce Crumley, Time Magazine. October 16, 2012.
1. Preventing the Flu: Good Health Habits Can Help Stop Germs. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm
2. The 21 Germiest Places You’re Not Cleaning. By David Butler, Greatist. June 2012. http://greatist.com/health/germiest-places/#