An icky fact: That elevator button or door knob you just touched? It likely has flu germs on it. If you're avoiding the flu, take note. Then wash those hands. Do it the right way -- and do it often, several times a day!
It's true -- germs can live on any surface for two hours or more. If someone in your office or school is infected, those germs can reside on anything they've touched -- desks, phones, coffee pots, microwaves, cafeteria tables, toys, books.
You can take all the precautions in the world, but sometimes the flu sneaks around your defenses. So what do you do when someone in your house has the flu -- or even swine flu?
To give you an idea, here's a countdown of five average days with the flu. Keep in mind that this rundown is based on a typical case of seasonalflu. There's still a lot we don't know about swine flu. But so far, its symptoms seem to be pretty similar to those of common seasonal flu viruses.
When flu prevention experts advise you to wash your hands, they don't mean a light drizzle of water. As mama always said, use soap and warm water -- and rub hands for 15 to 20 seconds. Sing the 'Happy Birthday' song twice while rubbing, to keep track of the time.
"The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent flu, but the next best thing is good hand hygiene," says Rachel Orscheln, MD, an infectious disease specialist and pediatrician at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Then wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze to prevent spreading the virus."
One flu prevention strategy: Keep gel sanitizers close at hand. If a sink isn't nearby, a gel sanitizer or an alcohol-based hand wipe is easy to grab to clean dirty hands. The gel doesn't need water to work; just rub hands until the gel is dry. Most supermarkets and drugstores carry these wipes and gels.
Making It Work at the Office: Grab a Paper Towel
At the office, the paper towel is a very good friend -- a great way to avoid flu germs. "Use a paper towel to open a door, turn a faucet, use a towel dispenser," advises James Mamary, MD, a pulmonologist with Temple Lung Center at Temple University Health System in Philadelphia. "You can even use a paper towel or cloth to touch elevator buttons." Gloves would work.
Luckily, many workplace sinks now have automatic on and off faucets, Mamary notes. "But I always use a paper towel in a public bathroom. You wash your hands, then you touch a doorknob where other people are not washing hands. It makes sense to use a paper towel."