Avoid Flu Germs with Clean Hands

Part 2 of 5
This is the second part of a five-part series on preparing for a potentially tough flu season.

Three Healthy Habits for Healthy Kids

wash-hands.JPGGerms are a big concern with flu season upon us. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Especially this year with the swine flu, H1N1, parents can take simple precautions to eliminate as many flu and cold germs as possible.

Like seasonal flu, the H1N1 (swine) flu virus is spread primarily from person to person through coughing or sneezing. When a healthy person breathes in flu germs, or touches their eyes, nose, or mouth after touching something with flu germs, they’re likely to become ill.

Ally is working up a good lather.
She knows the importance
of hand washing.

1. The number one flu prevention is to wash hands.
Moms always say, “Wash your hands!” They’re right.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hand washing is the most effective way to stay healthy. Eighty percent of infections are spread by hand contact.

It takes about three weeks to learn a new habit. Emphasize hand washing before the flu season. Wash hands after coming into the house, before cooking and eating, after using the toilet, after changing a diaper, and before bed. Use a chemical-free soap, not an antibacterial soap, to wash your hands, your baby’s hands, and your kids’ hands. Talk to your children’s teachers to see how the school can encourage hand washing as well.

Teach your kids how to effectively wash their hands. Frequent hand washing will wash the viruses and bacteria you and your children may have collected down the drain. Thoroughly cleanse hands with regular soap and warm water. This is the single most important thing you can do to prevent illness. Most people splash a little soap on their hands and quickly rinse,.

It’s important to scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. While scrubbing their hands, teach your kids to include the back of their hands, in between their fingers, and under their nails, and scrub for at least 20 seconds. Have your kids sing a song or count to 20, you can have them count backwards from twenty to one. Rubbing their hands together under running water is as important as the soap is for cleanliness, because it dislodges the germs. The water washes the germs down the drain.

When soap and water are not available use an alcohol-based gel, which is 60 percent alcohol. Hydrogen peroxide (available in spray bottles) and vinegar make safe hand cleansers as well.

2. Cover coughs and sneezes.
Flu and cold germs are primarily spread by touch. We tell our kids to cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze. Covering your mouth with your hands will only spread the germs when you touch something. Remind your child to sneeze and cough into a tissue or the crux of their elbow. Remind them to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing into them. The most difficult thing for kids (and me) is to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouth.

3. Clean Surfaces.
The least likely form of flu transmission is picking up germs from a surface, because the virus lives for only a few hours outside the body, but it’s possible. If your baby or toddler is in daycare, then the likelihood dramatically increases. Babies and toddlers frequently pick up objects which other children have held and place them in their mouths. The virus lives on hard surfaces such as toys, counter-tops, and desks for two to eight hours. Therefore, it’s advisable to wipe down hard surfaces which are frequently touched, such as light switches, refrigerator doors, desks, and counter-tops with a disinfectant or household cleaner. Use a weak bleach or vinegar solution or you can even put some toys in the top rack of the dishwasher. Use an antibacterial wipe to wipe off door handles, telephones, faucets, key boards, video game controls, TV remotes, etc. Use your own pen when out (you don’t know how many people used the pen before you).

The virus lives only a few minutes on soft surfaces, like sheets or towels. If someone in your home has a cold or flu, definitely don’t share towels. One precaution is to have a towel, especially hand towels, for each member of your family. I recently purchased several hand towels on sale, so that I can keep fresh, clean hand towels in my downstairs bathroom.

Coming Next: “How to Keep Your Immune System Strong”

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