With schools back in session and cooler weather on the way, many of us will be spending more time indoors. It’s a time to make holiday plans. It’s a time for togetherness. And it’s a time when we share a lot of disease-causing germs. Fortunately, you can take simple steps to dodge germs and boost your chances of staying healthy.
Each year, from late fall through winter, the number of cold and flu cases in the U.S. climbs dramatically. When you’re sick, each cough or sneeze can propel droplets laden with microbes into the surrounding air. These droplets can travel as far as 3 feet. Anyone in their path may be at risk for infection. That’s why covering your mouth and nose—with a tissue, the crook of your elbow or even your hand—is the considerate thing to do.
Microbes can survive outside the body, too. Some can live for 2 hours or more on doorknobs, faucets, keyboards and other surfaces. If you touch a germ-covered surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you increase your chance of getting infected and getting sick.
By far the easiest and most effective way to prevent the spread of germs is to wash your hands often and well. Health care experts recommend scrubbing your hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 15 seconds—about as long as it takes to recite the alphabet.
Antibacterial soaps are popular and plentiful on store shelves. They contain a chemical called triclosan, which can kill bacteria. But are they better than regular soaps? In one recent study, researchers reviewed all the scientific papers published between 1980 and 2006 that compared regular and antibacterial soaps in everyday use. They found that regular soaps were as effective as antibacterial soaps, both in blocking germ-related disease symptoms and in reducing the amount of bacteria measured on hands.
When soap and water are not available, you can use an alcohol-based gel—usually called a “hand sanitizer”—to clean your hands. These alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin.
Another great way to stay healthy during the cooler months is vaccination. Getting a flu vaccine each fall is the single best way to prevent the flu. Flu vaccines can be given as a shot or a nasal spray. Both provide protection against the strains of flu that experts predict are going to be the most common this winter.
Talk to your health care provider about flu vaccines and other strategies to help you beat back germs. Taking some simple steps will help you and your family stay healthy
and enjoy the festivities this fall and winter.