How to Prevent Infections

Winter is prime time for colds, the flu, bronchitis, and stomach bugs, but if you’re caring for someone with a compromised immune system or who is more susceptible to infection, you need to take steps year round to prevent illness. Reduce your risk—and your loved one’s—by incorporating these five actions into your routine:

1. Wash Your Hands

You’ve heard it before, but it’s hard to overstate the importance of keeping your hands clean. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it’s the single most effective way to avoid getting sick or spreading disease. To get the job done right, hands must be washed:

  • Frequently—particularly before and after preparing food, after using the bathroom or changing diapers, and after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose.
  • Thoroughly—be sure to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under and around your fingernails. The whole process should take 20 to 30 seconds, or about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers will do in a pinch, but they don’t eliminate all germs. Also, antibacterial soaps might do more harm than good, as they may lead to resistant bacteria. Plain old soap and water is the way to go. Here’s a complete rundown on when and how to wash up from the CDC. And here’s a video to help you get that scrubbing technique down.

2. Cover Your Mouth

Always cover your mouth when you cough. It’s best to catch those germs with a tissue, but if there’s no time to grab one, the next best thing is to cough into the inside of your elbow rather than cover your mouth with your hands.

3. Clean Common Tools and Surfaces

Did you know that viruses can hang around on surfaces for hours and bacteria can linger as long as three days? Think about anything and everything that you touch with your hands:

  • Doorknobs, cabinet knobs, drawer pulls, and handles (faucets, refrigerator and freezer, oven, dishwasher)
  • Phones, smartphones, and other touchscreen devices (including your car)
  • Steering wheels
  • Computer keyboards and mice
  • Light switches and remote controls (especially if you eat when you watch TV)

Depending on the surface and circumstances, consider disinfecting with a bleach solution (¼ cup bleach to a gallon of warm water) or rubbing alcohol—otherwise, soap and water should do the trick.

4. Use Paper and Disposable Products

If at all possible, avoid sharing towels in the kitchen and bath (or using handkerchiefs to contain sneezes). Paper towels and tissues may not be as environmentally correct, but they will take any lingering germs with them into the trash.

5. Get (and Stay) Vaccinated

All family members should stay current on all applicable immunizations, including flu shots. Check with your doctor to make sure you’re up to date.

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