(ARA) – The chillier days bring more than cool air, colorful foliage and long sleeves. They also mark the beginning of cold and flu season.
The common cold leads to 75 million to 100 million physician visits annually, reports The American Journal of Medicine. Five to 20 percent of Americans are infected with the flu virus each year and about 200,000 are hospitalized due to complications from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even more disconcerting: more than 3,000 Americans die from flu-related causes each year.
It’s important to make sure a cold or the flu doesn’t inhibit day-to-day activities by using good hygiene habits. “Maintaining your health and the health of your family can be difficult when we find ourselves in crowded office buildings or schools each day,” says Dr. Allison Aiello, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and member of the Tork Green Hygiene Council. “However, by implementing simple hygiene practices, one can reduce the risk of catching a cold or the flu during this season.”
To help stay healthy during cold and flu season, Aiello offers five steps:
Wash your hands
The CDC says keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. Be sure to wash your hands after sneezing, coughing and using the restroom. Washing hands after arriving to work, school and home also helps prevent the spread of germs to colleagues, friends and loved ones. Remember, proper handwashing should take as long as 20 seconds and include warm water and soap. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel or lotion is a great way to prevent sickness when soap and water aren’t readily available.
Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize
The common cold and the flu can be spread by hands. This means that you can transfer these illnesses not only to others, but to surfaces as well. People touch 300 different surfaces every 30 minutes. Some viruses and bacteria can live up to eight hours or longer on items like doorknobs, phones and tables. You can prevent the spread and impact of germs by wiping down surfaces with a disinfectant wipe each day.
Flu outbreaks can happen as early as October or as late as May. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated as early as September or as soon as the most updated vaccine becomes available. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for an adult to develop antibodies against the flu which will support you through the flu season.
Cover your mouth
Cold and flu germs can spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing. Covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing is a necessary deterrent against the spread of germs. While most people believe coughing or sneezing into a hand is sanitary, few realize that germs are spread quickly this way. Instead cough or sneeze into one arm, firmly pressing your nose or mouth against your sleeve to stop germs from escaping.
Recent reports state nearly 22 million school days are lost each year due to the common cold and 75 million work days are expected to be missed during flu season. When you are sick, take a sick day and allow your child to stay home if he or she is not feeling well. After a person is infected with the flu, symptoms usually appear within two to four days and are considered contagious for an additional three or more days after symptoms appear. Anyone in close proximity to a cold or flu infection may become infected because these infections can also be spread directly by aerosols. Staying home when sick will not only help avoid spreading illness to others, but allow time for you or your child to recuperate and recover.
For more information on the importance of hygiene and hygiene tips from Allison Aiello and the Tork Green Hygiene Council, visit www.torkgreenhygienecouncil.com.