Adults catch a cold 2-3 times each year, while the flu hospitalized and killed more people in the U.S. last winter than in the past several decades, according to the CDC. With all our scientific breakthroughs, how are we still getting sick? The answer is simple: we're not properly protecting ourselves.
As we all know, there's no cure for the common cold. And while getting an annual flu vaccine protects against a few strains of the influenza, it doesn't protect you from them all. A few simple steps can help make the difference between a houseful of sniffling sniffersons and a healthy home during cold and flu season.
1. Choose a disinfectant that works
Not all disinfectants kill cold and flu. You may be shocked to learn that not all products from popular brands like Lysol, Formula 409, Windex, Fantastik and Pine-Sol kill the cold and flu. When looking for a disinfectant that kills these, look for ones that include the cold virus, also known as Rhinovirus, as well as the flu virus, which is commonly spread as the H1N1 Influenza A Virus.
2. Give your disinfectant enough time to work
Did you know disinfectant wipes often require surfaces remain wet for up to 10 minutes in order to kill germs effectively? All disinfecting products need to stay wet on the surface for a specific length of time to kill bacteria and viruses. This is referred to as "kill time", "dwell time" and/or "contact time" which you can find listed on the label instructions. If it dries before the kill time is met, then you haven't actually disinfected anything. Illness and disease-causing pathogens could still be there. Be careful, as this kill time can vary even between products made by the same company.
Many disinfectants also contain alcohol, which can cause the liquid to dry quickly. This can make it difficult to keep the surface wet without re-wiping multiple times, so you're better off using a spray disinfectant cleaner.
3. Disinfect household handles, switches and knobs
Make sure to disinfect handles, knobs and other frequently-touched items such as your phone, video game controllers and more (here's how). Do so repeatedly, because new germs that come into your home can spread entirely through the house in less than eight hours!
You want to continually disinfect during cold and flu season so you keep the germs at bay. This is where an alcohol and bleach-free formula can come in handy. While they don't do immediate damage, over time they can cause discoloration, dryness or cracking, especially on plastic or vinyl surfaces.
4. Wash your hands!
You're likely not the first, nor even the tenth person to use that elevator button or doorknob at work, so make sure to regularly wash your hands to avoid unwelcome germs camping out in common areas.
When flu prevention experts advise you to wash your hands, they don't mean a quick run under the faucet. It's important to use soap and warm water, and rub your hands together for 15-20 seconds. If soap and water aren't available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Alcohol is often used to kill bacteria and viruses by breaking down cell proteins.
5. Coughing or sneezing: Cover your mouth and nose
A single sneeze can spray cold and flu germs up to six feet, so when you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, reach for into a tissue - and then throw it away once finished. If a tissue isn't readily available, sneeze into the crook of your elbow to prevent sending a cloud of germs into the air.
Researchers at MIT discovered in a sneezing study that when you sneeze, you produce a wide sheet of saliva, mucus and germs that balloons, then bursts like a bubble, and finally disperses into a spray that spreads in nearly all directions. You should also avoid sneezing into your hands, because you'll likely transfer those germs to the next surface you touch, where it can live for at least a few hours.
6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
Germs are easily spread to and from the body when you frequently touch your face. Whether at work, home or out running errands, following this simple rule will help significantly prevent the spread of illness-causing germs.