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Prevent Flu: Soap Away Germs

To keep the flu virus at bay, wash your hands with soap and water several times a day.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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.

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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."

Making It Work at School: Sing in the Restroom

Has your child sung her favorite song today? Suggest singing every time the kids wash their hands. "Kids must learn that any time you use the restroom there are germs," says Orscheln. "It's very important to wash hands with soap and water after using the toilet. It's important to wash real good using soap and water. Like toothbrushes that have songs in them, singing helps when washing hands."

Are kids sneezing at school? A big dispenser of gel hand cleanser should be in clear view -- on the teacher's desk or some other place. "It's not always easy for kids to get to the washroom during class," Orscheln tells WebMD. "If a child coughs or sneezes, they must be sure to clean their hands right away."

Reviewed on October 01, 2010

To prevent the flu: