Avoid germs to keep healthy
The way to keep you and your family healthy has a very basic principle - avoid germs. And this time of year is the time when virus germs are most prevalent - because they love the cooler, dry air of winter. We are familiar with the seasonality of the flu, colds, and the norovirus - but this year there is a new virus to worry about.
What is the New Corona Virus?
The corona virus at the top of our news flash is scary because it's new. Scientists don't yet know enough about it to make more than educated guesses. They are still determining exactly where it came from, although it is likely a zoonotic disease, which means it originated in animals and then jumped to humans. This most likely took place in a food market in central China - which has since been shut down.
The number of people infected is more than 71,000 worldwide, with over 1700 deaths as of this writing. By the time you read this, the numbers will unfortunately most likely be higher. For the latest reporting on this you can learn more here: Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by Johns Hopkins CSSE.
Containment efforts, including cancellation of flights to and from China, quarantine, isolation, extensive testing of anyone with symptoms, are all being employed. The goal is to keep the corona virus contained until it is eradicated or runs out of hosts. These scenarios are possible, but more likely is what some scientists are predicting. That the new corona virus will become a circulating virus like the flu, or several other corona viruses.
How to Avoid Germs and Stay Healthy
Avoid the flu, as well as the new corona virus, and the norovirus, with a few simple steps.
Avoid the flu by washing your hands
Experts agree - the single most important thing you can do to stay healthy is...wash your hands.
But...you have to wash them for 20 seconds. Schools are telling kids to sing the Alphabet Song while they wash. This is to ensure they get the soap and water where it's needed to take care of the germs.
The reason for 20 seconds is because that gives enough time to completely lather up our hands. The soap doesn't kill germs on contact. (And added antibacterials don't seem to help with that.) Soap helps to lift the germs off our skin. Then we need several seconds of rinsing to wash those germs down the drain. And it doesn't matter if the water is warm or cold - it's the rinsing action that does the job.
Can you avoid the flu with hand sanitizers?
Handwashing is best, but use hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water whenever possible because handwashing reduces most types of germs. If soap and water are not available, then the next best option is to use a hand sanitizer with 60% or more alcohol content.
FDA warning to Purell
And the FDA has just issued a warning to the makers of Purell. They must stop claiming that using Purell reduces illness by killing certain germs, including Ebola, norovirus, and influenza.
The FDA does admit that hand sanitizers with more than 60% alcohol probably do kill flu virus.
Hand sanitizers are less effective on Norovirus
Unfortunately, hand sanitizers are less effective on certain types of germs, such as norovirus. Norovirus illness is the major cause of stomach upset - what we always called the "stomach flu" - in kids and adults. And no surprise to most parents, norovirus is most active in the months of December, January, and February. The only effective way to rid your hands of norovirus is by handwashing - following the 20-second rule.
Sneeze and cough into your sleeve
Teach kids this effective way to keep germs out of the air and off their hands. And model this behavior yourself!
Avoid sick people
Stay home from work and school.
Work from home if you can. Keep your little ones home from school when the flu is rampant if you can. Avoid crowded gatherings, buses, etc. It's common sense, really. Germs are more prevalent where there are more people gathered together.
We know it's just very hard to stay home from work sometimes. Or keep a child home when they don't seem that sick and don't have a fever. And there's no sitter available. But it's one of the best ways to contain contagious viruses. And your co-workers and fellow school parents will thank you.
The rule of thumb for most schools is kids can go back to school after 24 hours fever free without the aid of medicine. This is because the highest contagion period is when we are running a fever and showing active symptoms.
What about masks? Do they help?
People with symptoms should wear masks.
Extensive research has taught me the answer to this question is...maybe. If you are already sick, then a mask can definitely help prevent your sneezes and coughs from spreading germs.
Healthy folks should not hoard masks.
If you are healthy, masks probably do little to keep you that way. They're only effective against large droplets. They often don't fit properly. They're uncomfortable. If you manage to keep them on most of the time, they definitely have to come off for eating and drinking. And the hoarding of masks by healthy people just might mean there aren't enough for those who really need them: health workers and sick people.
Get the flu shot - it's never too late
Sure, you and your family should ideally get your flu shots by the end of October. But don't think you can forget about it because you missed that window. Flu season can linger into May, which means it's really never too late to get the vaccine.
Clean your surroundings regularly
Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces with a common household cleanser. Germs can linger on doorknobs and handles, railings, bathroom and kitchen surfaces - pretty much anywhere we touch.
Stay healthy this season
We hope you have managed to stay healthy this flu season. But just in case, stock up on Pedialite, cough drops, pain relievers, and chicken soup...and maybe even some Vicks VapoRub.