Flu-proof your home and office

Have you noticed people around you coughing and sneezing? Alas, allergy season is over and other culprits are hampering our daily activities: dreaded colds and flu. It’s no surprise most of us will go out of our way to avoid them. We don’t have to become germaphobes, but experts say there are some smart steps we can take to avoid catching a cold of flu or spreading them to others.

We’re all familiar with tips like getting a flu shot and staying home when we’re unwell, but here are some more steps you can take to keep colds and flu at bay this season.

Keep tissues handy.

Colds and flu are air born — that is, they spread from the tiny droplets people expel from their noses and mouths. Experts say to cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue to trap the escaping germs. Toss the tissue, and follow through by washing your hands. (If you aren’t near a sink, some hand sanitizer will work.)

If you don’t have a tissue handy, sneeze or cough into your elbow instead. 

Clean commonly touched surfaces on a regular basis.

Germs can survive on hard surfaces for up to 48 hours — something you’ll want to keep in mind if sniffling spouse has been hogging the TV remote and your contagious co-worker was the last one to use the copy machine. Experts recommend regular cleaning for commonly touched surfaces, such as:

– Light switches
– Door handles
– Handrails
– Elevator buttons
– Water coolers
– The refrigerator
– Telephones and fax machines
– Photocopiers
– Sports equipment
– Toys
– Counter tops and tables
– Vending machines

Keep your workspace clean.

Surely your workspace is free of germs — after all, you’re not sharing it with your colleagues or your family. Wrong! Studies have shown that workplaces harbour hundreds of bacteria. We aren’t just talking commonly touched surfaces. Your desk, keyboard, mouse and chair could be home to all kinds of germs. Some of them are bacteria that we would normally find on our bodies and in our environment, but some can cause illnesses too.

Experts say to keep your work area clean — and you might want to consider leaving your desk for snacks and meals.

Carry your own pen.

Believe it or not, pen and pencils can carry germs too — and think of how often they end up in somebody’s mouth. Use your own stationary at work rather than shared implements and keep them out of your mouth.

You might want to stash one in your purse or pocket when you’re shopping too. Store pens have been handled by many people who have been touching plenty of other things — including money.

Clean your gadgets too.

Remember what we said above about germs living up to two days on commonly touched surfaces? Think of how often you touch those surfaces — then touch your tablet or laptop.  Now think of all the things you touch before using your smart phone, and all the times you held your phone up to your face.

Now that we’ve grossed you out, better add these items to the list of things to clean on a regular basis. As always, make sure to power down or unplug first and never immerse your item in water. (USA Today has some good tips for flu-proofing your gadgets.)

Wipe down your car.

It gets you from home to the office (and vice versa), but your car has its germ hotspots too — especially if you share a vehicle. Experts say to clean often-touched surfaces once a week including the steering wheel, cup holder and gearshift.

Wash your hands often – and keep them away from your face.

Experts say it over and over again: keep your hands clean. We know to wash our hands after using the restroom or before handling food, but experts warn to also wash your hands after you’ve been touching high-traffic surfaces — especially ones such as ATM machines and shopping cart handles where you don’t get a say about how often they are cleaned. 

If you can’t wash your hands, a hand sanitizer will do the trick. Either way, try to keep yourself from touching your face — especially your nose, eyes and mouth. Germs can gain direct access to your body through these orifices.

Keep your cleaning supplies fresh.

If you’re reusing cloths, mops and sponges, you’re really pushing germs around. Though germs don’t live as long on soft surfaces as they do on hard surfaces, these items have plenty of tiny spaces where bacteria and viruses can hang out. The moist environment is perfect for breeding too.

You don’t have to switch to disposables, but do make sure to change your cleaning items frequently and wash or sanitize in between uses. Many items can go in the washer and dryer — preferably at hot temperatures — and you can refresh your sponge by wetting it and microwaving it for one minute.

Have plenty of linens on hand.

Sharing towels and face cloths is a no-no when someone in your household is sick. Make sure items being used by someone who is ill are kept separate and changed often. Washing in hot water and running them through the dryer for 45 minutes can help kill germs.

Take care with the wash.

You can’t get sick from washing your clothes or linens with your unwell family member’s, but you can pick up germs from handling these items. Experts say to avoid handling them for too long and to wash your hands right away.

You don’t need special antibacterial soaps or germ-killing appliances, say some experts. As we mentioned above, for the most part, using hot water and the dryer will do.

Humidify your home.

Does your home feel dry when you turn on the heat? It may sound counterintuitive, but some experts think that upping the humidity in your home hampers the growth and spread of certain bugs. (Check out this story on Health.com for details.) Research is still ongoing, but a decent level of humidity in your home can make things a lot more comfortable too.

True, these steps may take a little time and effort, but with some common sense and good hygiene we can go a long way to keeping bugs at bay. A cold or flu may be inevitable for many of us, but we can reduce the impact it has on our family, coworkers and strangers too.

For more information about flu prevention, visit FightFlu.ca.

Additional sources: the CDC, City of Ottawa website, InfectionControlToday.com, Public Health Agency of Canada, Tesh.com

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ rene sedney

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