35 Expert tips to avoid germs and stay healthy this winter
We are gearing up for the busiest time of the year when demands on our social lives are at an all-time high and yet our immune systems can be struggling. Follow our top tips and tricks to help keep you and your family in the best health to enjoy the run up to the festive season. Whilst exposure to some bugs is vital to developing a health immune system – there are many unpleasant bacteria and viruses that can make us extremely ill. Read our expert advice to avoid getting ill from them.
How long can bugs survive outside the body?
Cold viruses can survive on hard indoor surfaces for around seven days. Flu viruses, can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours and last about 15 minutes on tissues.
Prevention is key! Here are 35 Expert tips to avoid germs and stay healthy this winter:
Get your flu jab
This is best done before peak flu season, which is November and March as the vaccination takes a couple of weeks to build immunity, although it’s never too late to be vaccinated. Many high-risk groups will get their flu vaccination free of charge, but anyone can pay to be vaccinated.
This is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA estimate in excess of one million deaths caused by infection and disease directly attributable to insufficient hand washing.
Use soap and water and wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Hot water is optional, and research shows it makes no different whether you wash with a normal soap or an antibacterial one. It is the friction from soaping up and washing off the suds under running water that is important for eradicating germs.
Wash between the fingers and around the thumbs.
Damp hands attract germs. Make sure yours are dry. Opt for paper towels over communal cloth towels that can continue to harbour germs. An air dryer is the most hygienic option.
Protect your hands
Avoid cuts on your hands. Open cuts are a breeding ground for germs, but so is dry cracked skin. Look after your hands so they maintain a protective barrier against bugs.
Use a paper towel to turn the tap on and off or to touch the door handle –health workers use this shortcut in hospitals to cut germ risk. If you are in a hospital or health environment – the long tap handles enable you to turn the taps on and off with your elbows!
Repeat, repeat, repeat
Repeat the hand washing every time you use the loo, touch your face, travel on public transport or before you eat.
If washing facilities aren’t available, use hand sanitiser with at least 60% alcohol content. Carry a bottle at all times.
Eyes, nose and mouth and three key access points for germs so keep your hands away from your face. A contaminated surface alone won’t give you the flu. The virus needs to pass a mucous membrane in order to do that. It is usually us putting our contaminated hands near our mouth or nose that then transmits the infection.
Trains, planes and automobiles
After travelling on public transport – wash your hands. Door handles, revolving doors, escalator handrails, push-front bins, arm rests in waiting areas – all carry lots of bugs. These bugs can remain active for many hours.
Germ hot spots to actively avoid
Magazines in doctors or dentists waiting areas, the communal pens on the chemist counters for signing prescriptions, ATM keypads, buttons on pedestrian crossings and lifts. Escalator rails, poles on tube trains and buses – wear gloves if possible, or use your hand sanitiser after touching these communal areas.
Clean communal hot spots in the home. The flu virus can live on surfaces for around 24 hours. Giving commonly touched areas such as fridge handles, taps, kettle and light switches a daily wipe down can help contain germs. Use paper or disposable towels to clean. Reusable cloths should be disinfected or washed at 60C after each use.
Your phone is likely to harbour thousands of bugs – particularly if you are in the habit of taking it to the loo with you!
Your kitchen sink is the dirtiest place in your home; it’s the perfect paradise for pathogens to lurk on your taps, chopping board, tea towel and dishcloth. Clean them daily with soap and hot water or with disinfectant and put the dishwasher and washing machine as appropriate.
Foot to the pedal
Use a pedal-operated bin to avoid transferring germs from the bin lid onto hands.
If you are caring for someone who is infected
Put a 3-feet exclusion zone around anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
The flu virus can journey about 3 feet when projected by a cough or a sneeze.
In the case of norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, the particles in the vomit work on the same principle as the sneeze only they can travel further – 10ft to the front and 7ft to the side. Stand well back if someone vomits if you want to avoid infection.
Catch your sneezes in a tissue.
If you don’t have a tissue or are too late to get one out, catch the sneeze in the crook of your arm.
Make the patient dispose of their used tissues, ideally down the loo. If you have to dispose of used tissues e.g. for a child or older person, wear disposable gloves to avoid contact with the respiratory secretions which contain the flu virus.
Save all your kisses
The flu virus is carried in saliva, so mouth to mouth contact during this time could be risky. Blow your loved ones a kiss instead.
Avoid sharing food and cutlery with someone who is actively infected.
Remember the virus can remain alive for 24 hours. Keep pillows separate and wash the bedding.
If a sick person lies on the sofa to watch the TV, remember the virus can remain active for 24 hours there too. Wash any throws.
Give bugs the brush off
Remove your toothbrush and other personal items such as flannel and towel from the communal area so that germs from the infected person can’t be transmitted to others. Wash them regularly at a high temperature.
Wash it well
Underwear, towels and household linen needs washing at 60C or at 40C. Don’t hug dirty laundry to your chest and face when you are carrying it. Instead reduce the chances of infection by using a laundry basket. Do regular washes to avoid leaving dirty laundry sitting around, as germs rapidly multiply.
The first rule of the office is to stay at home if you are sick. A survey showed half of UK workers would still go into work if they had a stomach bug. And 55% said they would still struggle to make it into work if they had flu. Is this really sensible if you are contagious!
Breeze through it
Although you might think that opening a window will somehow dilute the germs from an infected person, it actually does little to protect you. The outer coating of the flu virus outer hardens in response to the cold so it remains viable whilst passing between people.
Eating at your desk transforms it into a bacteria cafeteria. Stray crumbs breed bacteria. Get in the habit of sweeping up crumbs, removing the packaging and disinfecting your workspace, before and after lunch. Move the keyboard away before your eat. Don’t put your lunch directly on your desk. One office study found the bacteria Staphylococcus on 60% of desks.
Contrary to popular belief the microwave is not a sterile environment. The inside and outside of microwave ovens are teeming with bacteria, with the handle of the microwave being one of the dirtiest places in an office. Put your lunch on a plate, or in a container to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Make sure the microwave is regularly cleaned and encrusted food is removed. Ensure your food is piping hot throughout.
Leftover and out of date food in a dirty fridge will contaminate your lunch and could make you ill. Clean the fridge regularly and ensure it is running at the optimum temperature.
Your smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer keyboard and mouse are all high-risk germ zones. Many of our handheld devices have 10 times more bacteria on them than a toilet seat. One study found 3,000 microorganisms per square inch on keyboards and 1,6000 bacteria per square inch on a computer mouse. Carefully clean all gadgets with an antibacterial wipe.
The office photocopier is also a source of unhygienic bugs. On average it is touched around 300 times per day.
Do not chew the office pens. You might not be the only person doing so.
Coffee break or bacteria outbreak
One in five office mugs carries faecal bacteria. This isn’t surprising since a study of 100,000 office workers in Europe revealed 62% of men and 40% of women didn’t wash their hands after visiting the loo.
Only use an office mug if you are sure it has been thoroughly cleaned in a dishwasher and not simply rinsed by the previous user. Opt for your own personal mug – preferably with your name on it. Clean it thoroughly at the end of the day and leave it on your desk for the next day. This will reduce the chance of it being shared.
Say No To Nuts
The complimentary nuts on the bar are communal so they are as clean as the last people to take some from the bowl. At the end of the evening, the remaining nuts are often put back into a container to be served up again the following night.
Don’t double dip
Steer clear of communal bowls of dips and never ever double dip the chip.
Swerve the salad
Avoid the salad bar if it looks dodgy. Unwashed raw greens can be a source of contamination.
Pass on the bread
In some restaurants uneaten bread from one table is simply served up at another.
Well done everyone
Order your meat well-cooked. This means it will have reached a safe temperature during cooking and won’t give you food poisoning.
Boost your immunity
Looking after yourself with sleep, relaxation, healthy food can help you stay healthy.
Work it out
Regular exercise can help you stay fit and well. It is a good idea to wear your flip-flops in communal changing rooms and showers to avoid catching fungal infections such as ringworm and Athlete’ s foot as well as verrucas.
Only take antibiotics when absolutely essential and always ensure you finish the course. Avoiding antibiotics when they aren’t necessary (such as for viral infections like flu) forces your own immune system to work more efficiently. Ask yourself and your health care provider, can I get better without this antibiotic?
Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life
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First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.