As a bio-hazard cleaning company, one of our primary goals is to stop the spread of germs on whatever project we’re working on. That often involves use of industrial strength cleaners and our technicians generally wear protective hazmat suits. But what about cleaning in your own home? This flu season, you can use these tips to stop the spread of germs that can lead to colds and flu. Yes, germs are everywhere, and it’s very easy to come in contact with them. But there are things you can do to reduce your exposure.
Germ Transmission 101: How Cold & Flu Germs Get Spread
Sure, you and everyone in your family went out and got your flu shot, so your home is protected, right? Wrong. One reason colds and flu proliferate at this time of year is that germs are easily spread. And while you might not contract an illness, you can be responsible for spreading those germs. And unless you lock yourselves indoors all winter and don’t allow guests to enter, there are going to be germs. You carry them in from the outside, and they get spread around your home.
There are four main types of what we call germs
- Bacteria (one cell microorganisms that can reproduce inside or outside the body)
- Viruses (can only reproduce inside the living cell of a host)
- Fungi (multi-celled, plant-like)
- Protozoa (one-cell microorganisms that live in moist areas and are spread via water)
The amount of time each of these can live varies. For example, viruses that cause colds can only survive a short amount of time on the exterior of your body, such as your hands. Some survive only moments, but the rhinoviruses – those responsible for colds – can live up to an hour. The same is true for viruses on hard surfaces. The average on a tissue is only 15 minutes.
Flu viruses are a little more resistant than those responsible for colds. They can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. But they may only last on a tissue for about 15 minutes, and in the air a couple of hours. Some aggressive bacteria and viruses such as c. difficile and the norovirus can last for days, even weeks. In one study, c.diff was found to survive for 5 months on a hard surface. The best advice is to assume those little bugs are going to hang around for awhile unless you get rid of them.
How to Cut Down on the Spread of Germs
Here are some simple steps you can do to reduce the spread of germs this season:
- The most effective thing you can do to stop the spread of cold and flu germs is to wash your hands – often and properly. A simple water rinse isn’t enough. Using soap and water whenever possible, wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. If soap and water isn’t available, use a hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your mucous membrane areas – eyes, nose, mouth.
- Take steps to keep your immune system strong (good nutrition, adequate sleep, hydration, and exercise)
- Be proactive with cleaning: Use a disinfectant spray or wipe that specifically is labeled as effective against cold and flu viruses. Don’t like chemicals? A mix of hot water and vinegar has been shown to be effective. (Chlorine bleach does not always work on germs involving organic matter, but the CDC says it is effective against cold and flu viruses.) Wear rubber gloves to reduce skin contact.
- Allow cleaned surfaces to air dry; resist the urge to speed things up by wiping afterward with a paper towel. The disinfectant continues to work as it dries.
- Eliminate damp areas, since germs often will multiple in moist conditions. That means things like clothing, bath towels, and dish-cleaning implements like dish scrubbers and wands.
And finally, if you are sick, stay home! It doesn’t do any good to go see your doctor for an antibiotic, because colds and flu are viruses and antibiotics don’t help. Your clinic will appreciate it if you keep your germs at home.