As cold and flu viruses make their rounds, you may want to kick your germ-avoidance tactics into high gear, making sure that if one person in your house gets sick, the illness doesn't spread, taking everyone-including you-out of commission. Here's a room-by-room overview of where some of the germs lurk in the highest concentrations and how you can modify some of your habits to stay healthy this season.
The bathroom is usually the biggest source of droplet-spread germ transmission. For this reason, try some of these tips:
- If you have the luxury of a guest bathroom-and a willing family member-relegate the sick person to the guest bathroom for the duration of the illness. If not, replace all cloth hand towels with paper towels (made of recyclable material, of course), unless you have the time and energy to launder the sick person's hand towel (and bath towel) after every use.
- Steer clear of the community toothbrush holder, which could be a pool of contagion (those bristles almost always touch!), particularly in times of illness. As a general rule, though, you should keep your toothbrush separate from other people's toothbrushes.
- Replace the sick person's toothbrush after their illness. Sanitize your toothbrush as well. There are several ways to this:
- Soak them in Peridex solution for twenty hours.
- If you don't have twenty hours to spare, you can invest in a VIOlight, a high-tech toothbrush sanitizer.
- While some people swear by putting their toothbrush in the dishwasher, some dentists advise against this because the cycle can damage the toothbrush. When in doubt, throw it out and get a new one, since you should only keep a toothbrush for three months anyways.
- Disinfect key areas in shared bathrooms: the sink faucet, the sink basin (little kids touch the sink area and/or hold on for leverage), the bathroom doorknob, and the toilet handle.
Common Areas/Common Items
Common areas in the home can be the biggest source of airborne germ transmission. To remedy this, consider purchasing a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to place in common spaces like media rooms and shared bedrooms. By changing the filters as directed, you can help to filter out 99% of germs and bacteria. If at all possible, open a window to bring some fresh air into your home. In addition to shared air, shared surfaces can also harbor contagious germs; in fact, a study by Charles Gerba, Ph.D., showed that during an average flu season, 59% of surfaces in the homes he tested were contaminated with the flu virus. While you don't have to go overboard, be mindful of high-traffic touch spots including:
- The telephone receiver and mouthpiece (this is most important since your mouth could touch the surface directly; make sure you get all the phones in your home)
- Faucet handles
- Refrigerator and microwave door handles (also very important since you will be eating with the same hands you used to touch the handles)
- Kitchen and bathroom counters and faucets
- Light switches
- Computer keyboards, remote controls, and handheld games
One of the biggest mistakes people make is using a germ-laden sponge to "clean" counters, kitchen tables, and other surfaces, a habit which can literally give germs a free ride throughout your home. Make sure your sponge is truly clean by disinfecting it regularly (soak it in a solution of ¾ cup bleach and 1 gallon of water for two minutes; or wet the sponge and pop it in the microwave for one minute). To make sure the sick person isn't spreading their germs on the kitchen hand towels, switch to paper towels for the duration of the illness.
Although it sounds simple, make sure you wash your hands thoroughly and often, and always after you come into close contact with the sick person. While this sounds simple, if you're an adult helping a young child blow her nose, you're going to need to be extra-vigilant. You don't need to use antibacterial soaps; a gentle hand soap will do. In fact, one study showed that people who used antibacterial soaps had the same number of colds, flus, fevers, and sore throats as people who used regular soap.