Can You Prevent Viruses In Your Home?

Spring may be here but the weather here in New Hampshire has been up and down these past couple of weeks. With the ever changing weather comes the common cold and flu season.

The flu is a respiratory infection that affects approximately 51 million people each year in the United States. With that said, you may wonder how can you prevent or protect your home from the flu this season?

Cold flu season, runny nose. Sick girl on bed sneezing in handkerchief in bedroom, view from above

Coughing and Sneezing

One of the first steps in protecting and preventing the spread of the flu in your home is changing your habits. As humans, we often are found touching our parts of our face without even knowing it. Have you thought about how many times you touch your nose, your mouth, eyes or ears during a day? This constant touching counts up to hundreds of times per day without even thinking about it.

What about coughing or sneezing? Do you do that correctly? Teaching yourself to cough or sneeze properly can be harder than you think. Colds and flu are spread mostly by direct contact. When a sick person around you coughs or sneezes, viral droplets can travel 6 feet or more from them to you and surfaces around you. What can you do?

  1. Cover your mouth! Not with your hand. The best way to cover your mouth is by coughing or sneezing into the crook of your elbow. This protects your hands from spreading the germs.
  2. Wash your hands often! Hand sanitizer is good, but washing your hands for as long as it takes to sing happy birthday two times will get your hands completely clean and disinfected.

Running your fingertips under water doesn’t count. “The mechanics of the hand-washing make all the difference,” says Terri Remy, MD, medical director of Medical Associates at Beauregard in Alexandria, Va.

How to disinfect

Disinfecting should be a part of your usual cleaning, whether you are sick or not. Often though, many homeowners don’t disinfect often enough.

When you are disinfecting, make sure what you are using is good against a wide range of viruses and bacteria.

What to disinfect

Think about the items you touch a lot. Things people share are more likely to spread germs, says Elizabeth Scott, PhD. She is co-director of Boston’s Simmons Center for Hygiene and Health in Home and Community.

Focus on these items after someone has had a cold or the flu:

  1. Your phone. Eighty percent of phones in homes that have a child with the flu have the flu virus on them, according to Gerba’s research. That can include cell phones and land lines. “Cold and flu viruses survive on them, anywhere from a few hours to a few days,” Gerba says.
  2. The remote control. It’s one of the most touched — and least cleaned — items in your house. “If a child sneezes into her hand and touches the remote, the germs can get on the remote,” Levine says.
  3. The bathroom. Half of all bathroom faucets have cold and flu viruses when someone has a cold or flu, Gerba says. “Those tend to get contaminated because your hand goes right there.” Give the sick person their own hand towel, to avoid spreading disease through a shared towel, Levine says. Don’t reuse when wiping (for instance, don’t wipe the toilet and then the sink).
  4. Tables. Kitchen tables, coffee tables, play-area tables, and night tables tend to host cold and flu viruses, because they’re touched often and aren’t wiped down enough, Gerba says.
  5. Computers. Check the maker’s instructions before cleaning. You may be able to wipe keyboards or screens with an alcohol wipe or a paper towel sprayed with disinfectant.
  6. Stuffed animals. If possible, toss Teddy in the laundry. If it’s not washable, keep it away from everyone for a few days to let viruses on its surface die.
  7. Sheets, blankets, towels. “These should be washed at high temperature with a color-safe bleach detergent,” Scott says. Wash your hands after handling them.

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