Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, the weather has gotten colder, and evenings are coming earlier, it’s time to think about the holiday season. Halloween has come and gone and Thanksgiving is fast approaching. The holiday season brings family, friends, lots of parties, celebrations and close quarters. This close contact also means winter colds, sniffles and the flu. Here are several ways to prevent getting sick or spreading sickness during the holiday season.
Washing your hands frequently with soap and water is the best way to prevent the spread of germs. The frequency of hand washing often depends on the individual’s daily duties but doctors and nurses are not the only people who should be washing their hands multiple times during the day.
- Wash your hands before and after eating or preparing food.
- After using the toilet, changing diapers or changing the litter box.
- Wash your hands after using computer keyboards or cell phones
- Wash your hands after using public transportation, or touching heavily used items, (hand railings, elevator buttons, turnstiles).
- Before and after performing personal grooming like applying cosmetics.
- Wash hands before and after taking care of or visiting sick individuals.
- Wash hands after blowing your nose or sneezing.
- Wash your hands whenever visibly soiled or after completing any “dirty” job like taking out the trash.
To wash your hands correctly, wet hands under the faucet before applying a mild soap to create a lather. Rub your hands together and scrub for at least 10 to 15 seconds. Be sure to scrub between fingers and the area under the nails before rinsing with warm water. Do not use harsh antibacterial soaps which will dry and irritate the skin.
Purell and other hand sanitizers can be used if hand washing is impractical or not possible (such as when riding the bus) but is less effective and sanitary. These alcohol gels coat but do not clean the hands, and should never be used after changing diapers or handling fecal material. Hand washing should be performed as soon as possible after using these gels or sanitizing wipes.
Bottom line: If you haven’t washed your hands at least four times today, go do it now.
While sanitizing wipes are second-best for cleaning hands, they are an excellent tool to do a daily wipe of keyboards, phone handsets, cell phones and other items that are handled frequently.
Clean: cellphones and touch screens
Now that cellular phones have become an ever present, always accessible item, it should come as no surprise that they also serve as a great conduit to carry and transfer germs from your hands to your face. In fact cellular phones are one of the dirtiest fomites that we encounter during the day. Dirtier than public toilet seats according to several researchers. If that fact sickens you, remember, your cell phone may actually, literally, sicken you. A thief in Uganda found this out the hard way after contracting Ebola from a stolen cell phone.
Immediately after purchasing a cellular phone, owners should invest in several screen protectors. These protectors can be used to protect the screen from moisture, and should be replaced periodically. Owners should clean their phones at least daily with an anti-bacterial wipe. While these wipes are inferior for hand washing, they are gentle enough for most electronic devices. Other items that should be cleaned frequently include all touch screen devices, headphones and music players.
Don’t touch: Face
One of the most effective ways to transmit harmful germs, viruses and microbes is to touch your face. More effective than kissing, hands and fingers deposit a plethora of harmful germs directly to the face and mucous membranes. The average person touches their face several times an hour, with some people touching their face several times a minute.
The best way to break this habit is to be aware of it. Do you bite your nails? Are you frequently re-adjusting your glasses, or pushing back your hair? Are you scratching your chin, pulling an earlobe or performing any one of several hundred automatic or mindless gestures that bring your hands to your face, that you may not even be aware of? Lastly, do you talk on a cell phone?
Now that you are aware of these gestures, do something about it. Tie your hair back, stop chewing your nails or invest in a blue tooth headset. Make a conscious effort not to touch your face frequently. When you do need to touch your face, like when re-applying or touching up make-up, wash your hands first.
One of the easiest ways to safeguard your health is to stay current on your vaccinations. This means more than the annual influenza vaccination. Protection from measles, mumps, rubella and other vaccine-preventable diseases often require a repeat vaccination “booster” during adulthood. If you haven’t received these vaccinations since childhood, you may be unprotected. Nothing ruins Christmas faster than a case of the whooping cough.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published a helpful, color-coded vaccination schedule for adults. People over 40 will notice that there are more vaccines listed than they remember from childhood. Newer vaccines include hepatitis B and varicella (Chickenpox). While hepatitis B can’t be spread through casual contact, people who contract chickenpox as an adult will be more seriously ill than children. Adults are more likely to be hospitalized or die from chickenpox than their juvenile counterparts. This includes adults of childbearing age, who are more likely to be exposed to children carrying the virus.
As always, people with chronic conditions, on immune-modifying medications (like medications for Rheumatoid arthritis or chemotherapy) and people who have had their spleen removed are at increased risk for contracting serious illnesses and may need additional vaccinations or more frequent boosters. If you are at increased risk, additional information can be found at the CDC website.
Contain: Sneezes, and illness
Preventing illness also means preventing the spread of sickness. Since even the most vigilant efforts sometimes fail, the next step is to contain the outbreak.
Unlike common practice, the best way to contain the spread of germs while sneezing is not to use your bare hands. In fact, this is one of the most effective ways to spread germs as moist particles soil hands and are passed during handshakes and other gestures.
Sneezes should never be left uncovered however, as germs are aerosolized or spread through the air with a forceful sneeze. A sneeze causes these particles to hover in the air for several minutes before coating surfaces, Individuals as far as ten to fifteen feet may ingest these particles while breathing or speaking.
While the CDC currently recommends sneezing into an elbow, in 2014, reporters at ABC news give a graphic demonstration of why this strategy is ineffective. Instead, individuals should quickly grab a tissue or paper towel to contain their sneeze. But with a sudden sneeze, this may not be possible.
The Shirt Sneeze
However, there is an alternative strategy that is more effect than the ‘elbow method’ to contain your sneeze and all of that explosive particulate matter. As soon as you feel the urge to sneeze, pull the top of your shirt over your nose and mouth. Easy to do with jersey t-shirts, jackets and coats can also be quickly pulled closed to cover the face before a sudden sneeze.
Will you feel silly doing this? Or even a bit embarrassed as you possibly expose a possibly less-than-trim waistline? Maybe. But you will also prevent the spread of potentially infectious droplets which can travel several feet during even a moderate sneeze or cough.
Now look at your shirt – disgusting? Probably. But consider that otherwise all of this biological material would otherwise be ejected on the the faces and bodies of surrounding individuals and nearby surfaces and you begin to understand the importance of containing your sneeze or cough.
Not only that – but spread this practice among your peers. “Keep your particulate matter to yourself” may not be a sexy slogan, but it might prevent an office-wide outbreak.
Lastly, if you feel an illness coming on, stay home. Stay out of shops, buildings, and restaurants. Don’t spread sickness to your co-workers and friends. Coming in to work sick doesn’t show dedication , it shows a disregard for the health and wellness of your colleagues.