It’s what's on every parent’s mind right now—colds and flu! With those pesky germs lurking in daycare centres, schools and even your workspace, it can sometimes seem like an uphill battle. It's winter and it is viral season, and anything less than a time machine trip back to July means there's no going back. As a physician, I can count on my office and emergency room being filled with kids and adults coughing, wiping their noses, and suffering with vomiting and diarrhea for at least the next three months or so. This is life in Canada during the fall and winter "ick" season, much to a parent (and doctor's!) chagrin.
Thankfully, there are some preventative measures you can take to avoid bringing these illnesses into your home.
Here are my expert tips for preventing pains, aches, sniffles, sneezes and worse this year:
I know you’ve heard it a million times, but washing your hands with soap and water—and doing it often—or using a sanitizing gel or spray really does decrease the risk of getting viral and bacterial infections. Ensure you wash for 20 seconds or more (as long as it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice). Consider using a paper towel to turn off the faucet and open the bathroom door in public washrooms as these places are often germ and virus party towns. I wash my hands before I step in every exam room, again before I touch a patient, and once again as I’m leaving a room. All this washing makes my hands drier than I’d like, so I moisturize often to combat cracks and dryness, which are just another gateway for germs.
You'll want to make sure your nails are always clean, as serious bacteria and viruses such as H1N1, E. Coli, strep, coronavirus and more, often linger under these hard to reach spots. Besides soap and water and hand sanitizers, consider using a product like freshnails, an undernail hand sanitizer that targets and removes dirt, debris and germs from your undernails—an area most soaps and brushes do not reach. Using freshnails can lower the risk of common infections and help prevent colds, flu, sickness and illness by killing 99% of the bacteria under your nails—all without the need for water, soap or a sink. freshnails fits nicely in purses and pockets. Add freshnails to the stocking of anyone you think could not use a cold or flu this season. Basically, it's freshnails for everyone this year, because who wants to be sick for the season? Exactly no one, according to a quick count here.
Avoid touching your nose, mouth, and eyes whenever possible. This is how bacteria and viruses take hold—by entering your body through mucous membranes, the majority of which happen to be - surprise! - on your face. Let's say this: if it's a hole on your face, don't be touching it. Avoid rubbing or putting your hands on your face throughout the day and always wash your hands before eating since your hands will be in close proximity of your mouth nose and eyes. Again: If you're going to touch it, pick it, rub it, or caress it—wash first.
Viruses and bacteria can live on surfaces for hours or even days. That public keyboard, phone, doorknob, pen, and water cooler are likely covered in illness-causing germs. It's a gong-show of virus and bacteria anywhere a human hand has lingered during the winter season, because you can't count on everyone to be as diligent as you are at washing. Consider cleaning these surfaces often (and encourage others to do the same), or keep hand sanitizers close by and ready to use after you use public places. Antiseptic wipes are great to keep on hand in your office space, and can also be used to swipe headsets and keyboards you may borrow.
Getting your heart rate up every day (ideally for at least 30 min) can help stave off illness. Your heart will become stronger, and your immune system will be better able to fight infection if you are healthy and active. If you are already sick, follow this simple rule of thumb: if you are sick above the neck with sneezing and congestion, go ahead and exercise. If you have a high fever, cough or chills, get some rest and resume exercise when you are feeling better. Rest up to work out.
Over the years we've heard about many medicines and herbal remedies touted as preventive magic for colds and flu, including high dose vitamin C, Echinacea, and zinc to name a few. Most studies demonstrate mixed results in the prevention and treatment of common viruses but one treatment worth considering is honey. Limited evidence shows it can prevent infections and shorten the duration of illness, but please check with your doctor before trying medicines or herbal remedies, especially if you are taking other medication where drug interactions are possible.
The flu shot or mist are great defenses against the influenza virus. You cannot get the flu from the shot or spray, but mild fever, aches or a runny nose are common side effects. If you aren't too sure about getting the flu shot or mist, click here for some flu shot q&a or ask your doctor.
Prevention is key when staying healthy during the cold and flu season. Washing hands often, using freshnails, and keeping your home and work environments clean and sanitized can go a long way towards being able to enjoy your winter season. Who wants to spend two weeks in bed with the flu when they could be skating or sipping hot chocolate in a ski lodge hot tub?
Try some of these simple personal hygiene tricks to help keep you and your family healthy this cold and flu season and beyond!
Your hands may look clean but even after washing, they’re still covered in germs. Now, thanks to freshnails, your hands can be 99.99% germ-free.
Watch this short video to learn the proper way to wash germs and dirt off your hands.