With cold and flu season in full effect, it’s pretty apparent that an apple a day just isn’t going to cut it. It’s so easy to get sick this time of year, but there are steps you can take to make sure you and your family stay virus-free.
We know for certain how these viruses spread: from people coughing or sneezing directly on us, or by contact with a surface that has been contaminated and then inadvertently touching your face, mouth, or nose. Since these invisible dangers are so easy to oversee, our greatest weapon is to be aware of the places germs can transmit.
We spoke with Darria Long Gillespie MD, TV health expert, national spokesperson for the American College of Emergency Physicians and mother of two to discuss simple, every day precautions we can take to protect ourselves from the cold, flu, and more for the rest of the season.
Get a Flu Shot
According to the CDC, it is not too late to be vaccinated for the 2019–20 season. “I always say the number one way to cut your risk of contracting the flu is to get vaccinated, which reduces your chances by about half,” says Dr. Darria. “It takes about two weeks for it to take effect, but it’s still not too late to get your flu vaccine as we’ve seen it run out to May in some cases.”
Wash Your Hands the Right Way
This may seem like such a basic task, but it’s so second nature to us that we often don’t perform it correctly. But washing our hands, the right way, is a pinnacle step in staying healthy. Dr. Darria suggests always aiming for water and soap and using hand sanitizer only as a last resort. “Use warm water, as it effectively breaks up the surface of the germs,” she says. “Wash for at least 20 seconds, or the length of singing ‘happy birthday’ twice.” And perhaps, the most obvious step that many of us may not have even thought of: “Don’t touch the dirty [public] faucet after you’ve washed your hands to shut it off,” Dr. Darria advises. “Use a paper towel for both the sink and to open the door.”
Revisit Your Coming Home Routine
Often after a long day at work, we’ll immediately want to sit on the couch and decompress when we get home, but Dr. Darria suggests taking a few precautionary steps before grabbing the remote. “Once you’ve come in contact with outside surfaces, you’re capable of spreading germs in your home,” she says. “A good routine is to take off your shoes, change out of your outside clothes and wash your hands, while having kids wash up to their elbows.” She even quarantines off bags and kid’s backpacks in a separate area, puts lunch boxes in the dishwasher, and wipes down hard surfaces like books and pens.
And Your Nightly Routine
Surfaces are the easiest way for germs to harbor and spread. Dr. Darria recommends wiping down commonly touched things like doorknobs, refrigerator handles, and countertops. Some more germ-harboring hot spots? Trash can lids, faucet handles, light switches, refrigerator handles, and yes, TV remotes and even your cell phone. “Wiping down things like this is part of my nightly routine that sets my family up for the next day,” says Dr. Darria.
Use an EPA-Registered Disinfectant
During cold and flu season, we shouldn’t just clean — we should disinfect. Dr. Darria suggests using an EPA-registered disinfectant, versus a common household cleaner on all these surfaces. She swears by Clorox Disinfecting Wipes ($9.99, Target), which will kill 99.9 percent of the germs that cause cold and flu.
“One thing I tell people is that all of the precautions we’re discussing here to protect yourself from the common cold or flu can also help protect against newer strains of pathogens such as the 2019 coronavirus, which I know is top of mind for a lot of people even though the threat level here in the U.S. is low according to the CDC,” explains Dr. Darria. “EPA-registered products such as Clorox Disinfecting Wipes have demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar [to SARS-CoV-2] on hard, non-porous surfaces.” If that isn’t enough to convince you, the wipes are also registered to fight against other viruses and bacteria including Respiratory Syncytial Virus, Staph, E. coli, Salmonella and Strep.
Go the Distance When Traveling
Another common place where germs are spread is on planes, but it’s not just from re-circulating air. “When I fly, I bring a travel pack of Clorox Disinfecting Wipes,” says Dr. Darria. “As soon as I sit down I wipe down things like the seatbelt, armrest and even my tray table. Funnily enough, on my last flight the passenger next to me asked for one themselves! Next thing I know we’ve started a movement and I’m handing them out to everyone around us!”
Follow the Health Basics
When it comes to keeping our immune systems as strong as possible, Dr. Darria suggests three things that are not only the most basic, but the most effective. It seems obvious, but when it comes to cold and flu season, sleep really makes a difference. “If you’re getting insufficient sleep it directly impacts your ability to be able to fight against pathogens,” explains Dr. Darria. Then there’s exercise: “This doesn’t mean that we all need to run 5K a day,” she says. “Studies have shown that even if you’re just going on a walk for five minutes a day, you are still boosting the circulation of your white blood cells and your immune cells that fight off infection.”
Finally, she loves to make smoothies for her entire family this time of year. “A diet high in bright leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables is better than any supplement you can take,” she says. “These kinds of foods are high in antioxidants and minerals which provides you with that extra boost.”