Now that flu season is upon us, I always like to take steps to prevent myself from getting infected from other people or items they may have touched. While there is no magic bullet for this, here are some rules that I personally follow that may help you avoid getting the flu.
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water
Washing your hands frequently will eliminate most viruses and bacteria from your hands and prevent you getting them near your nose or mouth. If you can wash your face while out, you should do this as well.
During winter months, do not purchase foods from serve-yourself open buffets
Eating off of salad bars at buffet-style restaurants or other communal type restaurants only serves to get you sick. Instead, opt for ordering from the menu so the food is cooked in the kitchen and served to you directly. This doesn’t eliminate the risk of getting sick, but it drastically reduces your chances because the plates will be clean and the food will be prepared fresh and hot. A cook in the kitchen could be sick, but most better restaurants don’t allow sick cooks in the kitchen (it’s a liability, after all). The fewer people who touch your food, the less chance you are to pick up a virus.
For this same reason, don’t buy foods in grocery stores from open buffet fill-it-yourself containers. The reason for this rule is very clear. Most buffet style places leave spoons out all day in containers and simply switch out the food leaving dirty utensils. Thus, spoons may have been touched by hundreds of people. By touching the spoon on the buffet table, you may be infecting yourself immediately. The food itself may also harbor the flu or a cold virus simply from someone sneezing. For sanitary reasons, avoid buffet serve-yourself meals during the winter to keep yourself healthier.
This covers both hot and cold food bars including olive bars.
As a side note about buffets.. Buffets are extremely unsanitary. The required sneeze guards do nothing for children. The guards are designed with adult height in mind. So, a child can easily be face high to the food, yet their face is under the guard. So, it’s easy for them to cough, laugh, sneeze or play around or even with the food or utensils. Since children seem to be the prime carriers for cold and flu viruses, this makes buffets and other serve-yourself food tables very unsanitary. Instead, you should order from a menu at a table. You should also ask the server if they plan on serving you food from the buffet table or if they plan on making it fresh. You should always specify having them make it fresh in the kitchen instead of serving you from the buffet food.
Tanning beds and UV
While this next portion may seem unusual, it may actually prevent you from getting the flu or colds. If you use a tanning bed, you may decrease your chances of actually contracting a virus or bacterial infection during the winter months. UV is known to disinfect surfaces and kill bacteria and viruses. So, using a tanning bed should kill viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin, both hands and body. You don’t necessarily need to use a tanning bed for the maximum time. It may take as little as 1-3 minutes to successfully disinfect the surface of your skin (not necessarily enough time to tan you), although, likely enough time to kill viruses. Disinfecting the surface of your skin through UV should kill off any viruses you may have picked up through contact with other people.
However, once a virus has entered your nasal passages, you are already infected. UV doesn’t penetrate deep enough to disinfect inside your body. So, don’t tan once you are sick as it won’t help you and may only serve to dehydrate you even more than the virus already has. Tanning can be dehydrating. So, drink water after tanning.
How often you do this really depends on how often you are out in public with lots of people around you. The longer you are out in public around potentially sick people, then you should tan at the end of the day to kill off anything you may have come in contact with. You should tan at the end of the day rather than the beginning so you kill the viruses you may have gotten earlier that day.
Shower regularly with soap
Having good hygiene by showering will also wash of any viruses that may have landed on your skin. So, shower regularly to reduce viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin. A reasonably hot shower or bath combined with soap is quite good at doing this.
Cover open wounds
If you have any cuts or open wounds, cover them properly with bandages. Having an open wound is an invitation for viruses to enter. Keep your cuts clean and keep them covered. Also, using antibacterial ointments like Neosporin on wounds can reduce infection and may also kill off or prevent entry of viruses.
Don’t use public phones or public computers
If you must use public phones or computers, you should bring along some Windex wipes or other disinfecting towelettes to wipe down and disinfect the surface before using it. Basically, you should avoid these devices or clean surfaces where the item could come in contact with your face (like a phone). With public computers, you’re touching the keyboard and may then wipe your nose with your hands. So, carry some disinfecting towelettes around during the winter months for quick disinfection. Also, carrying hand sanitizer allows you to clean your hands immediately after touching such items or, alternatively, go the restroom and wash your hands.
Wipe down surfaces in your office
Because offices are where we spend most of the day, always wipe down your phone, desk and keyboard. You never know when someone may sit down at your desk and temporarily use your space without your knowledge. So, wipe and disinfect your space each day during the winter time.
While I know that public transit is very ‘green’ and, in some cases, cost effective, it can also be a place where you can get sick. By sitting in seats where sick people may have been, you risk contracting the flu or cold viruses just by being there. You may not be able to avoid the use of public transportation, but you can reduce your chances by standing up rather than sitting down. If you stand on public transportation during the winter, you are not touching the seats where someone sick may have been sitting. Holding the hand rail only, you can easily clean your hands with instant hand sanitizer once you exit. So, carry a small sized hand sanitizer with you in winter months. If you must sit, then avoid touching your face and use a hand sanitizer after you exit the transit.
If you notice someone coughing around you, move away from them (preferably to another car on a train) or further back if you are in a bus. You can also get off at the next stop and simply wait for the next bus or train, if they are frequent enough.
For airplane transit, there’s not really much you can do here. If there’s someone who is sick on a plane, you’re very likely to catch it. So, the best bet is to limit travel to only necessary movement during winter months.
Avoid eating out often / order take-out if possible
Eating at any restaurant exposes you to viruses. So, to avoid this risk, don’t eat out. Instead, buy foods and cook for yourself. Eating at home, there is no risk of becoming infected with a virus (except what you or your family brings home). Because your home is basically a controlled environment, you can prevent getting sick by staying home more often in the winter. If you really do want to eat out, take the food from the restaurant as takeout. Order over the phone from home or your cell and then pick the food up after it’s ready. This means you get exposed to almost nothing other than door handles and money handling. So, use some hand sanitizer or wash your hands when you get home.
These are several of my rules that I choose to follow. However, sometimes it isn’t always convenient to follow them. So, you should wash your hands as the bare minimum to help reduce your chances of getting sick during the winter months.