Goodbye, Germs!

Germs are all around us. Some germs that can make us sick can live on surfaces for weeks or even months. And despite your best efforts, you can’t keep every germ from coming into your home. There are, however, certain precautions you can take to reduce germs from spreading throughout your home and to your family.

The number one way to stop the spread of germs is through good hygiene. It may seem obvious, but we can’t stress it enough: Wash your hands frequently.

Wash your hands anytime they become contaminated. Some of the key times are:

  • Before after and food preparation
  • Before eating
  • Before and after treating a wound, or caring for someone who is sick
  • After using the toilet, changing diapers, coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose
  • After touching garbage, a pet, pet food or animal waste

To wash your hands properly:

  • Wet your hands with clean water (warm or cold).
  • Apply soap and lather your hands by rubbing them together.
  • Scrub well for at least 20 seconds (Tip: sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while you’re washing).
  • Rinse your hands well under clean water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel, paper towel or hand dryer.

If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is an acceptable alternative. But make sure your hand sanitizer contains at least 60% alcohol so it can effectively kill germs and bacteria.

Get vaccinated. Vaccines are a great way to protect your health and the health of your family. Getting the flu vaccine helps reduce chances of flu-related illness and hospitalizations. It functions as a great defense, too. Learn more about how the flu shot can protect you.

Cover up. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, or use the crook of your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Immediately discard the used tissue and wash your hands.

Clean and disinfect all surfaces regularly. This means wiping down kids’ toys, doorknobs, and any other commonly used surfaces. As a rule of thumb, any area of your home with high traffic and surfaces that get touched a lot is a germ bank. Antimicrobial wipes are great for disinfecting surfaces. When purchasing wipes, make sure the package states that the wipes are effective against Influenza.

If someone in your house is sick, make sure to clean and disinfect anything he or she touches.

You can take down some serious germ strongholds in 30 minutes or less a day. You can get in a weekly clean sweep or monthly speed clean, just as long as you keep up with it so germs don’t escalate and overwhelm your home.

Handle and prepare food safely. The holiday season is almost here, and that means holiday parties are, too. To ensure the health of your family, friends and guests, follow these tips to make sure your food is safe.

Prevent foodborne illnesses by separating raw meat and poultry from other foods; washing your hands, surfaces and utensils with soap and water immediately after they have been in contact with raw meat or poultry; cooking all meat thoroughly; cleaning and serving your fruits and vegetables properly; and refrigerating leftovers in a timely manner to ensure the food is safe to eat later.

It is important to remember that not all germs are bad. Some bacteria are normal and live on or inside our bodies. Not only do we live in harmony with these beneficial bacteria, but they are actually essential to our survival. Good bacteria help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients, and they produce several vitamins in the intestinal tract.

So while we should be diligent about minimizing our exposure to harmful germs and bacteria, we need not let the presence of germs become an overwhelming worry. A few simple precautions are all it takes to keep your home and family healthier and happier all year long.

Gemma Downham, MPH, infection preventionist with AtlantiCare, is Board Certified in Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology.