Germs are everywhere
One of the best ways to prevent nasty seasonal colds and flu (not to mention nasty intestinal ailments) is to wash your hands.
It doesn’t take much imagination to envision the gazillions of germs that are lurking on handles and door knobs and other surfaces that we—and others—touch multiple times a day.
Wash your hands often
Soap and water are the gold standards of cleanliness, but hand sanitizer has become increasingly popular over the last ten years.
I prefer to use plain, inexpensive liquid soap without the added antimicrobial agent triclosan. No studies have shown triclosan to be more effective at killing germs than plain soap; however, there are studies that question its safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of reviewing available evidence on the safety of triclosan, but has not yet published its findings. But if it doesn’t work, why use it?
Related post: Is triclosan in soap and toothpaste safe?
I buy the least expensive soap I can find (usually a store brand) in the refill size, then I can easily and cheaply top up all the soap dispensers by all the sinks in my house.
The most effective hand sanitizers contain at least 60% alcohol. Like the soap, read the ingredients and buy whatever is cheapest. The addition of fragrances, thickeners and moisturizers does not improve the germ-killing quality of the alcohol.
Whatever your preference, technique is important. With soap and water, you must actively wash—rub your hands together—for at least 20 seconds.
And remember to dry your hands, too. Germs like wet hands.
With hand sanitizers, you must use enough to thoroughly saturate your hands, about the size of a quarter, and then wait for it to dry. Like sunscreen, people don’t use enough product to be effective.
Keep your hands off your face
Another important tip to prevent picking up a cold virus is to be aware of your hand-to-face movements.
Imagine: You are at the grocery store and grab an empty cart. Unbeknownst to you, a toddler with a cold has just been sitting in it. He wiped his chubby little hand across his runny, goopy nose and then slimed it all over the handle. You touch the handle and, without even realizing it, rub your eye or scratch your nose. The virus then moves into the warm and cozy mucosa of your face to set up camp.
Related post: Watch a sneeze in slow motion
Intestinal viruses also make their way into your body when you unconsciously touch your mouth.
For more information on hand washing (what—there’s more?) you can check out the hand washing page on the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website, or watch their hand washing video: