Flu season can take its toll on your health, but one way to fight the virus is to stop the spread of germs at home. University of Alabama at Birmingham Assistant Professor Neena Xavier, M.D., shares these tips to help you and your family strengthen your defenses this flu season.
What are some of the best ways to germ-proof your home?
You cannot really germ-proof your home, but you can clean and disinfect things to improve your chances of preventing the flu.
First, cleaning surfaces using soap and water and disinfectant sprays can decrease the number of germs and lower the chances of spreading them around.
Second, disinfecting commonly touched surfaces can kill germs and help lower the chances of getting sick. Avoid touching used tissues or other waste when emptying your trash, and wash your hands afterward to avoid getting those germs.
What are the biggest germ culprits in your home, and how should you disinfect them?
Commonly touched surfaces such as countertops, doorknobs, computer keyboards, toys, phones and faucet handles are major culprits for carrying germs. Make sure the product you are using is EPA-registered to both clean (remove germs) and disinfect (kill germs). Read the directions on the product on how to use it because different chemicals have different procedures on how many wipes are needed or how long to keep the surface wet — usually three to five minutes.
How can a humidifier or air filter help keep your home flu-free?
Dry air can cause scratchy throats, congestion and nosebleeds. While there are no scientific guidelines about the use of humidifiers to prevent flu, the germs may be able to survive in the drier air conditions. So the thought is that, if you keep the humidity level up in a room, the virus is less likely to survive. Just be careful of warm mist humidifiers because, if not cleaned properly, they can grow bacteria and mold, which can cause serious illness.
How often should you wash sheets and towels during flu season?
Most studies have shown that the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. However, it is not necessary to wash surfaces every day. Using harsh chemicals to wipe every surface that often can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and skin and aggravate asthma if you suffer from it, so you may cause more harm than good. In general, the important thing is to make sure you wash regularly and do not share towels or sheets with those who are sick without washing them first.
Remember, the virus is killed by hot temperatures, so if you do clean your sheets and towels, use the hot temperature setting instead of warm.
What are the best tips to protect yourself if someone in your house already has the flu?
If it is possible, choose a bathroom for the sick person to use and their own bedroom to sleep in. Plan to clean these rooms daily. Have some disposable facemasks at the house for other members, especially those who have other medical conditions that make them more likely to get sick.
Xavier is an assistant professor in the Department of Clinical and Diagnostic Sciences and faculty member with the Physician Assistant Studies program in the UAB School of Health Professions.
For more information on prevention, symptoms and vaccines, visit uab.edu/flu.