It’s the dead of winter and we are in the middle of the cold and flu season. I watch the people I work with and the people in the airplane seat next to me and realize just how short a step it is between being fully healthy and down for the count.
No matter whether it is a simple cold or the latest flu virus, germs can live on any surface for two hours or more. Your best defense is to wash your hands thoroughly and often. Experts recommend washing your hands several times a day.
Take a quick look at your surroundings and see what surfaces the germ-ridden might have touched. Desks, phones, light switches, coffee pots, even the microwave are perfect places for them to share their sickness. In addition, these are spaces that are rarely cleaned and sanitized.
One of our local high school teachers does a project with their biology class to determine what is the germiest place in the school. One year it was a certain button on the vending machine. Another year it was the stair rail between the first and second floor. Germs are everywhere and it is hard to know where they might turn up.
The best way to avoid flu is to have the flu shot, but barring that, your next best defense is good hand hygiene. We’re not talking a quick rinse — use warm water and soap. Wet your hands, use a dollop of soap about the size of a quarter and rub your hands together vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Experts say to sing the happy birthday song to yourself at least twice to help you time your washing.
If you are using a public bathroom, keep the paper towel in your hand as you leave the bathroom, at least long enough to open the door. You may have washed your hands, but the last person may not have. Don’t pick up their germs on your nice, clean hands.
I am often asked if hand sanitizers are effective. In a pinch, they will work, but they are no substitute for soap, water and scrubbing. Many have an alcohol base and tend to be hard on your hands. Always wash your hands if you have that option.
Another way to keep from getting a cold is to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose or mouth. Even the most careful of us is bound to pick up germs somewhere. The viruses that cause a cold or flu can enter your body through these openings and take up residence.
Stay away from those who are sick so you don’t end up sharing their sickness. If you are the one who is sick, stay home and away from others until you feel better.
If you are sneezing or coughing, cough into your shoulder, elbow or hands. Then wash your hands before you share those germs with others.
The common cold is the reason most people miss work and children miss school. Each year there are millions of cases of colds. The average adult has from two to three colds per year with kids having more than that. Remember that colds can’t be cured, they can only be endured. Colds have to run their course and there is no pill to take. Get lots of rest and drink fluids. Medicines treat the symptoms and may make you feel better, but they don’t cure the problem.
Antibiotics won’t help. In fact, treatment with antibiotics can be counterproductive because they become less effective with overuse.
So wash your hands. You’ll be healthier for it.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 907-474-7201