Colder weather is here and you know what that means, the flu and cold season is upon us once again. Should you just throw in the towel and wait for the inevitable flu wave to wash over you? No, of course not. There are plenty of tools and strategies to keep infectious illnesses at bay. Even if your family does get sick there are ways to minimize the impact of illness on your household. In this post, I will discuss simple strategies to hopefully stave off the most common illnesses so prevalent this time of year.
Just a reminder: I am not a doctor. Of course, if there is ever any question at all about what is best for you and your family, always consult your health care provider. None of the information presented in this post is meant as a substitute for a physician’s advice!
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HOW IS ILLNESS COMMONLY SPREAD?
In order to successfully prevent infection with a contagious illness, understanding how illnesses are spread is key.
There are several distinct pathways, each with specific precautions. For simplicity’s sake, I will limit this post to the two most common modes of transmission, responsible for most flu, cold, and gastrointestinal illnesses.
Airborne transmission occurs when particles that are suspended in the air are inhaled or land on the skin and are then transferred to mucous membranes. Infectious particles such as flu and cold viruses can travel as far as 6 feet when coughed or sneezed out into the air by an infected person.
The most common illnesses spread this way include influenza( flu), rhinovirus (common cold), chickenpox, measles, mumps, and whooping cough.
Less common illnesses spread through airborne transmission include anthrax, tuberculosis, and meningitis.
While the same precautions apply with any form of illness spread by airborne transmission, let’s focus on preventing the spread of the more common illnesses, as the chance of encountering some form of them in our normal daily lives is pretty great.
As the term implies, contact transmission occurs when you touch either an infected person (handshake, kiss) or an object that was touched by an infected individual.
One prominent example of a disease that is rapidly spread through direct/indirect contact transmission is conjunctivitis more commonly known as Pink Eye. If anyone in your family has ever had it you know how quickly it can be transmitted from one person to the next.
Several other diseases commonly transmitted through contact include influenza, cold, chickenpox, measles, mononucleosis, herpes simplex (cold sores), hepatitis A and B, and Fifth disease.
As you can see, several of the most common diseases can be spread through both airborne and contact transmission.
BEST WAYS TO PREVENT THE SPREAD OF ILLNESS
You know the old saying: “An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.” The best way to deal with illness is to keep it from happening in the first place. Just because everyone else around you is succumbing to the latest cold or flu bug, doesn’t mean you have to!
Staying healthy begins with a few common-sense strategies:
- get plenty of rest
- eat a well-balanced diet to supply your body with the building blocks for a strong immune system
- exercise regularly
- stay hydrated
- practice good hand washing techniques
- use a humidifier
- make sure you and everyone around you cover mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing – always sneeze or cough into your elbow or shoulder, never your hand
- wipe frequently touched surfaces with disinfectant cleaner regularly
- stay home if you do feel sick
A word about vaccines:
While no flu vaccine can give you immunity to all strains of influenza, it will protect you from the most prevalent strains. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, it will most likely be shorter in duration and not nearly as severe. Everyone should get a yearly flu vaccine, especially those with chronic health problems, the elderly, and those caring for others.
Make sure you get vaccinated before flu season usually hits hardest (December through February). It usually takes about two to three weeks for immunity to fully develop.
REST, DIET AND EXERCISE
Rest is essential for a strong and healthy body that is able to fight off infections. Getting enough quality sleep is vital to a healthy immune system. Studies have shown that chronic sleep loss can even make the flu vaccine less effective by lowering the body’s immune response.
Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits of vegetables often falls by the wayside during the colder season. Thankfully fresh fruits and vegetables are available throughout the year. Winter is a particularly great time to buy fresh citrus fruits full of immune-boosting vitamin C. Try to pack your diet with healthy whole foods and stay away from processed junk to give your body a fighting chance!
Regular exercise is good for your body, mind, and your immune system. Make time for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day. There is no need to go to the gym. You can take a walk outdoors for an added dose of much-needed vitamin D if the weather allows. Park farther away when you go shopping to get in more steps or drive to an indoor shopping center for indoor walking.
You may not remember to drink fluids during the colder season, but staying hydrated is just as important. Winter’s dry indoor air is a prime breeding ground that makes drinking lots of fluids a must. Try unsweetened green or herbal teas if drinking cold water is not your thing. Don’t forget to run a humidifier in your home.
Use a saline nasal spray frequently to keep nasal membranes moisturized. I love adding one or two drops of melaleuca quinquenervia – a special form of tea tree oil to my favorite nasal spray.
Certain supplements may boost your immune system. Consider adding elderberry, echinacea, garlic, and ginger.
KEEP IT CLEAN!
Ask any health care professional and they will agree that proper and frequent handwashing is your number one defense against unwanted germs. Proper technique and knowing when to wash your hands is key. Check out this post from the CDC to learn proper handwashing techniques. Encourage everyone in your family to wash their hands often. Always wash your hands thoroughly after returning home!
Clean frequently touched surfaces daily with a disinfectant cleaner. Those surfaces include countertops, doorknobs, light switches, cabinet handles, stair rails, even the steering wheel in your car! When cleaning with disinfectant be sure to let the cleaning solution sit for 10 minutes so it can do its job. This makes your job easier and more effective, no drying required!
Find handy printable sanitizer and cleaning recipes as well as a symptom tracker checklist in the FREE Resource Library. Just sign up here.
Here is where I have to get real and gross with you. Please hear me out.
The lid on the toilet is there for a reason. Please please please close it! Did you know that each time the toilet has flushed a plume is released into the air loaded with particles that can stay suspended for up to 2 hours?
Not all of those gross toilet particles will land on the floor. They settle on counters, faucets, towels, washcloths, and toothbrushes – everything that is exposed. NEVER leave the lid open and teach every family member to always shut it before they flush. Unless you like salmonella poop on your toothbrush…
Norovirus, a common form of the stomach flu spreads through contact with vomit or fecal matter. Normally that can easily be eliminated with proper handwashing – unless you re-expose yourself. Bacteria and viruses can be re-deposited on clean washed hands by drying with a towel that harbors infectious particles. For added insurance, use a non-drying hand sanitizer after washing and drying. You can find a simple recipe for emollient hand sanitizer in the FREE Resource Library.
Wash towels and sheets more frequently and always in hot water! Don’t allow family members to share toothpaste tubes – they are a fantastic way to share germs!
Make it a habit to sneeze or cough into your elbow or shoulder. Doing so in your hand is a surefire way to pass on a cold or worse.
Last but not least, clean the digital devices you use all the time. They can be a hotbed of bacteria and viruses. But like many other items you cannot simply douse them in disinfectant solution and call it a day. Check out this article that shows you how to clean your smartphones, tablets, and smartwatches properly.
Following these simple common-sense precautions and making sure each family member does too, should help keep those infections at bay.
Find more useful information like cleaning tips and recipes in the FREE Resource Library. I hope your family stays healthy this Winter! Be sure to join the discussion in our Facebook group and follow me on Instagram for regular updates!