‘Tis the Season

Not the Christmas season, of course; it’s much too early to be thinking about Santa Claus. Unless you’re a major department store, in which case you’ve had your light-up snowman yard ornaments on display in your seasonal section beside the rakes and lawn bags for two weeks. I know it’s true because I saw this guy at Sears last week and would have brought him home to live with me if he wasn’t so ridiculously expensive.

But I digress.

What I’m trying to talk about is cold and flu season, which started a week ago for me. Despite my best efforts to wash my hands and stay healthy, I caught a real humdinger of a cold. In hindsight, handling a giggling snotty nephew wasn’t the best idea, but I just couldn’t help myself. So I got to enjoy blocked sinuses, sniffles, sore throat, fatigue, and a low fever, making me a miserable slug for a week. I’m grateful that everyone has given me permission to take it easy and rest up, and I’m glad that laundry is a fairly low-energy task, because otherwise we’d be out of socks by now.

Don’t be like me. Don’t get sick. Avoiding small, sniffling children is a good start, but that’s only one (very effective) method of germ transmission. So what’s to be done?

Wash your hands.

Everyone says this, because it’s absolutely the best way to keep from getting sick. The CDC has a whole page dedicated to handwashing, with links to videos, factsheets, and podcasts.

How to wash your hands. Image from cdc.gov

Yes, sometimes people will cough or sneeze right at your face (small children, I’m looking in your direction) and you’ll be out of luck, but it’s far, far more likely that you’ll get germs on your hands and deliver them to your face yourself. Someone coughs into their hands and then opens a door, or sneezes on an elevator and pushes the buttons, and then you follow behind them a few minutes later, unaware of the collection of cold viruses waiting for you on those surfaces. You open the door, you push the button for your floor, then you rub your tired eyes or bite your nails. The next day, you’ll start feeling off and will probably start distributing those germs yourself.

Cold and flu viruses (and plenty of other nasties) can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours under the right conditions, so unless you want to wear gloves all day and get strange looks, you should make an extra effort to touch only what you need to, wash your hands every chance you get, and keep your hands away from your face. At home, if someone’s sick, break out the Lysol now and then to spray doorknobs, toilet handles, and faucets. Encourage everyone to wash their hands after using tissues to blow noses, and to cough and sneeze into their sleeves instead of into their hands.

You don’t need to bother with antibacterial soaps. Any soap will do, used with warm water and brought to a good lather. In fact, there’s research to suggest that the main antibacterial agent in most of the commercially available hand soaps, Triclosan, is contributing to antibiotic resistance.

It’s also a good idea to keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you, for times when you may not have quick access to soap and water. Again, antibacterial agents aren’t necessary here – anything that’s got an alcohol content of 60% or higher will be effective in destroying most of the bacteria and viruses that are on your hands. You should still look for a sink eventually, though, and wash your hands the old-fashioned way as soon as you get a chance.

With all this handwashing, you’re likely to get dry skin, no matter how many emollients the soap and sanitizer manufacturers add to their products. Get yourself a good hand lotion, because chapped and cracked skin is not a good barrier against germs!


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