It’s that special time of year. The weather is starting to turn, and a chill is in the air. It’s wintertime and with it comes the standard signs of the season like cozy sweaters, festive holidays — and plenty of sneezes and sniffles. You guessed it. Cold and flu season continues to be in full effect.
We spoke with board-certified internal medicine physician Dr. Adela Oliva for her expert advice on how to make sure the whole family stays healthy this season, and here’s what she had to say.
“Colds and flu are both incredibly easy to catch, unfortunately,” said Dr. Oliva. “To spread the flu, an infected person needs only to sneeze or cough, which can cause flu-infected droplets to land in the mouth or nose of someone nearby.”
But colds can spread just as easily, with viruses transmitting via the air and close personal contact. So what’s a mom to do with all these germs hovering around in their kids’ airspace? It’s time to get tough on germs by putting some basic cold and flu prevention strategies to work in your home.
According to Dr. Oliva, you can seriously decrease your chances of coming down with the sniffles — or worse — by focusing on preventive tips and teaching the whole family about them as well. “A little bit of extra care will go a long way this winter in preventing illness and recovering quickly,” says Dr. Oliva.
Teach Kids About Germs and Good Hygiene
For any family members at home who are already sick, be sure to remind them to cover their mouth and nose whenever they cough or sneeze, and then wash their hands just after. It’s also a good idea to regularly clean surfaces that get touched frequently. That way you can prevent everyone else in the family from catching their illness. Frequently touched surfaces can include light switches, door handles, television remote controls, phones and toilets.
Wash Your Hands
“The number one way to prevent the spread of flu is hand washing,” says Dr. Oliva. “I can’t emphasize it enough. When people are sick, it’s not uncommon for them to cough and sneeze into their hands or wipe their noses constantly, and hands are generally very dirty.” It’s recommended that you and your loved ones wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, which is about the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song two times over. Make sure you instruct your kids to wash all over their hands as well, taking care to wash their thumbs, the backs of their hands and cuticles.
If you find yourself in a situation where soap and running water isn’t convenient, never fret. Hand wipes and sanitizer can help in a pinch. Carrying sanitizer wherever you go and using it frequently throughout the day could be just the thing to lower your chances of catching a nasty virus. It’s important to keep your hands as clean as possible.
Be Aware of Bringing Germs Home
After a long day out and about, it’s smart to be mindful about where you place any items you may have brought home with you. It could be shopping backs, gym bags, backpacks, purses or any other item from work or school. If they were on their floor or another dirty area, they could easily be carrying unseen threats to your family’s whole-person health. Make sure that you aren’t setting these things down on a dining room table where you’ll be eating later, or in a food prep area like a kitchen counter.
If you’re particularly concerned about banishing the cold or flu germs, you may also consider having small children that are in daycare or elementary school change their clothes when they get home. In those settings, kids are often sitting on the floor and playing with items that might not be so clean. Medical professionals may also want to change clothes as soon as possible, as well.
Get Your Flu Shot
“The absolute best thing you can do if you want to avoid the flu is to speak with your doctor and get the flu shot,” says Dr. Oliva. “Patients who have chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes, asthma or those who are over 65 years of age and under two years old see the most benefit from the shot,” she says. These are the patients who face the highest risks of complications, should they develop the flu. If you want to know whether getting the flu shot is right for you or your family, consult your doctor.
Avoid Touching Your Face
In addition to washing your hands at regular intervals, it’s a smart practice to keep your hands away from your face, particularly during cold and flu season. There could be bacteria on your hands that don’t typically cause any problems, but once they enter your nose or mouth, they can become infectious. That’s why keeping your hands away from your eyes, mouth or nose can keep you healthy and feeling whole even when those around you battle colds and flu.
Limit Your Exposure Around Sick People
In today’s modern world, many people have the option to work from home, and offices can sometimes feel like a real-world petri dish when it comes to spreading viruses. If you have the option to work from home, take it. If that’s not a possibility, try moving your workspace to a less crowded part of your workplace where you’ll have less contact with people. Another way to limit exposure it to avoid shopping at stores during peak busy times. That way you can get your errands done while avoiding the crowds and limiting your exposure to a higher number of potentially sick shoppers.
You may also choose to avoid shaking hands if you or someone around you is sick. But surprisingly, hugs pose less of a risk of transmission than handshakes when it comes to passing cold and flu germs.
Keep Surfaces Well Sanitized
When cleaning, people will often wipe down surfaces with an alcohol-based wipe, immediately followed by using a dry towel to clean a surface. Studies of how germs are transmitted show that this isn’t the best idea when you’re battling nasty bugs. Making sure the surface stays wet for a longer period of time is the most beneficial — you should aim for 45 seconds to one minute to be confident that you’ve managed to kill lurking viruses and bacteria.
Boost Your Vitamin D
It’s common knowledge that vitamin D is associated with bone and muscle health, but it plays a lesser known role in keeping your immune system hearty and healthy. Medical professionals believe there is a direct link between specific types of immune responses and vitamin D, and an association has also been found with higher rates of infection with deficiencies in the vitamin. One way to boost your levels is by getting moderate exposure to sunlight on a regular basis. An even more effective route is by eating vitamin D-rich foods such as mushrooms, fortified cereals, yogurt and milk, as well as fatty fish like salmon, cod, sardines, tuna and cod liver oil. You can also speak with your doctor about taking quality vitamin D supplements.
For more information about how to avoid the cold and flu this year or to get your flu shot, schedule an appointment online with Dr. Adela Oliva today, call her office in Brandon at 813-850-0496 or find a doctor near you.