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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Killing Flu Germs: What Works?

Will disinfectants help prevent flu in your family?
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Killing Flu Germs Around the Home and Office continued...

While flu germs can theoretically be spread by sheets or towels, it’s unlikely: Influenza can only live a few minutes on soft surfaces. (Still, it’s best to not share hand towels or anything else with someone who has the flu.) Influenza germs tend to last longest on hard surfaces, so you could focus on: 

  • Doorknobs
  • Hand rails
  • Desks
  • Tables
  • Faucets
  • Computer keyboards and mice
  • Remote controls
  • Video game controllers
  • Elevator buttons
  • Toys

What type of cleaner should you use? “Really, any disinfectant will do the job,” says Schaffner.  One common recommendation is a 1/2 cup of bleach mixed with a gallon of hot water.

Of course, if you have kids, all the precautions in the world may not be enough.

“Children are flu factories,” says Hay.  “And with little kids, it’s almost impossible to stop them from sharing viruses with one another and bringing them home.” Even though day care centers may wash the toys and surfaces with bleach, it’s very hard to keep up.

What can a parent do? Aside from making sure your children get the flu vaccine, not a whole lot.  Even hearty adults who haven’t been sick in decades are generally laid low once they have children, Schaffner says.  Just consider it another cost of parenthood.

Keeping Perspective About the Flu

If you want to, you can spray your telephones with disinfectant and scrub your keyboards with bleach-soaked cotton swabs every day of flu season.  But don’t get so focused on disinfecting surfaces that you neglect the three most important things you can do to keep flu germs out of your life.

  • Regularly wash your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough, preferably with something other than your hand.
  • Get the flu vaccine every year.

Everything else is optional, flu experts say.

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Reviewed on October 18, 2007

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