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Sitting on the tube or bus, in a café or just being out and about. It is obvious that germ season is upon us. Everyone seems to be coughing, sneezing and spluttering – so how do you prevent being infected and how long can those germs really survive?
Read on to learn everything you need about winter bugs and most importantly; how to prevent them from infecting you!
Cold viruses can survive outside the body on hard indoor surfaces for a whole week!
Flu viruses can survive on hard surfaces for 24 hours and for 15 minutes on a tissue.
This is best done a couple of weeks before the flu main season, which peaks in November and March, although it’s never too late to be vaccinated. Children are super-spreaders and getting them vaccinated helps keep communities well.
Germs are often spread through communities, particularly by children in school. This is because their immune systems are still developing, they have unhygienic habits and they are in very close contact with each other. They then bring these bugs home to you.
This is the number one way to prevent the spread of infection and can reduce our exposure to nasty bacteria and viruses that can make us extremely ill.
Get your child into the habit of washing their hands in school and when they get home from school or from a party can go a long way to minimising illness.
Using soap and water, wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds. Research shows washing with a normal soap or an antibacterial one makes no difference and results are the same whether you use hot or cold water.
However, it is the friction from soaping up and washing off the suds under running water that puts paid to germs.
Damp hands attract germs. Make sure yours are dry. Opt for paper towels over communal cloth towels. An air dryer is a good option too.
Avoid cuts on your hands. Open cuts are a breeding ground for germs, but so is dry cracked skin. Look after your hands so they maintain a protective barrier against bugs.
Repeat the hand washing every time you use the loo, touch your face, or eat. Remind your children to do this.
If washing facilities aren’t available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content. Carry a bottle at all times. If your child is on a field trip without access to soap and water, provide them with a small bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes. Very small children should be supervised when using the gel.
Remind children that eyes, nose and mouth are three key access points for germs so to keep their hands away from their face. A contaminated surface alone will not infect you, it is the passing of that virus from your hands to your mouth or nose, that will make you ill.
Ask your child not to share at schools such as lip balms, towels, food and drink and sports kit, hairbrushes as it is simply not hygienic to do so.
Studies have shown that the school communal water fountain is a germ hot spot. This is possible because, unlike the school toilets, they are not regularly cleaned. Remind your child not to put their mouth close to the water source and preferably use their own water bottle instead.
The plastic lunch trays in school dining have also been shown to be a rich source of bacteria, if food drops onto the tray, remind your child not to eat it.
Give your child’s school backpack a regular and proper clean out, remove any leftover food or split drinks, particularly milk. Use a dishwasher proof lunch box within the bag rather than packing food loose into the backpack will help.
Regularly wipe the bottom of their school backpack. Before your child puts their backpack on the kitchen work surface, remember it has probably been on the floor of the school toilets.
The best place to change your baby’s nappy is in the bathroom, on a changing mat, close to the sink where you can wash your hands. Never change a nappy near the food preparation area.
Make sure you have everything to hand before you start so you don’t spread germs looking for creams and wipes etc.
Roll the nappy up tightly and use the adhesive side tabs to contain it into a ball so the contents don’t spread. Put the soiled nappy straight into the nappy bag or disposal system.
Check the baby’s hands or feet for poo, as a wriggling baby can often land a limb in a dirty nappy.
Regularly disinfect your child’s changing area. Wipe it down with soap and water or disinfectant. Wash your changing pads and covers regularly to reduce germs. Dispose of them if the cover becomes damaged.
Wipe down the changing table in a public toilet. It might not be regularly cleaned – if it is cleaned at all. Use you changing mat and wipe that when you get home. Changing tables in public toilets are often used by drug users – be particularly careful if you suspect that has been the case.
Carry a spare travel mat with you in case you have to change your baby on the floor and take extra nappy sacks with you in case there is nowhere to dispose of used nappies.
Give your nappy bag a regular clean out and disinfect it.
Always sanitise your hands after nappy changing.
Clean communal hot spots in the home. The flu virus can live on surfaces for around 24 hours and cold viruses for a full week. Giving commonly touched areas such as fridge handles, taps, loo handles, the kettle and light switches a daily wipe down can help contain germs. Use paper or disposable towels to clean. Reusable cloths should be disinfected or washed at 60C after each use.
Your kitchen sink is the dirtiest place in your home; it’s the perfect paradise for pathogens to lurk on your taps, chopping board, tea towels, washing up bowl and dishcloth. Clean them daily with soap and hot water or with disinfectant.
Use a pedal-operated bin to avoid transferring germs from the bin lid onto their hands.
Contrary to popular belief the microwave is not a sterile environment. The inside and outside of microwave ovens are teeming with bacteria, with the handle of the microwave being one of the dirtiest places in an office. Put your lunch on a plate, or in a container to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Make sure the microwave is regularly cleaned and encrusted food is removed. Ensure your food is piping hot throughout.
If your child eats a snack in front of the computer, it transforms the keyboard into a bacteria cafeteria. Move the keyboard away before they eat. Get in the habit of sweeping up crumbs and disinfecting the area regularly.
Your smartphone, tablet, laptop, computer keyboard and mouse are all high-risk germ zones. Many of our handheld devices have 10 times more bacteria on them than a toilet seat. One study found 3,000 microorganisms per square inch on keyboards and 1,6000 bacteria per square inch on a computer mouse. Carefully clean all gadgets with an antibacterial wipe.
Our money is not clean either – always wash your hands after handling money.
Put a 3-feet exclusion zone around anyone who is coughing and sneezing.
The flu virus can journey about 3 feet when projected by a cough or a sneeze.
In the case of norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, the particles in the vomit work on the same principle as the sneeze only they can travel further – 10ft to the front and 7ft to the side.
Catch your sneezes in a tissue.
If you don’t have a tissue or are too late to get one out, catch the sneeze in the crook of your arm.
Make the patient dispose of their own used tissues. If you have to dispose of used tissues e.g. for a child or older person, wear disposable gloves to avoid contact with the respiratory secretions which contain the virus or bacteria.
The flu virus is carried in saliva, so mouth to mouth contact during this time could be risky. Blow your loved ones a kiss instead.
Avoid sharing food and cutlery with someone who is actively infected.
Keep pillows separate and wash the bedding.
If a sick person lies on the sofa to watch the TV, remember the virus can remain active there too. Wash any throws.
Remove your toothbrush and other personal items such as flannel and towel from the communal area to reduce the likelihood of germs. Wash them regularly at a high temperature.
Underwear, towels and household linen need washing at 60C or at 40C. Don’t hug dirty laundry to your chest and face when you are carrying it. Instead, reduce the chances of infection by using a laundry basket. Don’t leave laundry sitting in the washing machine as germs rapidly multiply.
Looking after yourself and your family with sleep, relaxation, a well-balanced diet can help you stay healthy.
Make sure you and your children have lots of physical exercises too. The more they exercise the better they will be at fighting off colds and flu.
Avoiding antibiotics when they aren’t necessary (such as for viral infections like flu). Ask yourself and your health care provider, can my child or I get better without this antibiotic?
It is strongly advised that you attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit www.firstaidforlife.org.uk or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.
First Aid for Life is a multi-award-winning, fully regulated first aid training provider. Our trainers are highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals who will tailor the training to your needs. Courses for groups or individuals at our venue or yours.
First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.
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