If you want to avoid catching a cold or the flu, keep yourself and your surroundings as hygienically clean as possible. Although that can sound like a daunting task, it need not be with a slightly more conscious cleanliness effort. Keeping illness-causing organisms at bay can be largely accomplished by adopting three basic behaviors.
1. Regularly wash your hands with soap and water.
2. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers when soap and water are unavailable.
3. Keep common surfaces around you clean using such aids as microfiber cloths and mops.
If you're going to focus on just one behavior to maintain as healthy a lifestyle as possible, it should be on keeping your hands clean because that's primarily how germs and viruses infect your body. They hitchhike rides on your hands and then wait for you to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. At that point, it's all over. You're infected.
Everyone's hands, particularly during cold and flu seasons, are veritable germ factories, so keep them away from your face, says Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, an adjunct associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine. You should even think twice about your eating habits in order to remain cold and flu free, Dr. Fryhofer says.
"I try to bring something (to work) I can eat with a spoon or fork, rather than a sandwich I have to handle," Dr. Fryhofer told www.webmd.com. If not, be extra careful and wash your hands prior to eating.
If soap and water are unavailable, the medical community has long advocated the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers. But keep in mind that such sanitizers are only intended to kill bacteria and should not be used to clean your hands of traditional soiling, says Adam Soreff, Director of Marketing for UniFirst, a leading provider of work uniforms and facility service products to businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"Soap and water should be your first hand-cleaning choice whenever readily available," Soreff says. "But in public areas, such as hallways, offices, and cafeterias, seek out alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations to help keep hands free of infectious organisms."
Hand sanitizers, Soreff notes, should contain at least 60 percent alcohol to kill germs. "Anything less than that runs the risk of being ineffective."
GOJO Industries, the makers of Purell® Hand Sanitizer, offers this guidance to get maximum germ-killing action from sanitizers: "Place enough product in your palm to thoroughly cover your hands. Be sure to sanitize the front and backs of your hands, as well as between your fingers and under your nails. Rub hands together briskly until dry. No rinsing required. No towels needed."
During cold and flu season, you should also be particularly vigilant when touching common surfaces. That's because people who are already infected may have come in contact with those surfaces and left germs and viruses behind. So be wary when touching such things as door handles, computer keyboards, light switches, desks, and countertops. Even flooring can harbor infectious organisms which can hop aboard something you drop, such as a pen or paper clip.
The bottom line: To stay healthy during the cold and flu season, always keep soap, sanitizers, and soiled surrounding surfaces front of mind.