A 10 Step Outline for Preventing Flu and Colds

October 20, 2015

Step 1: Get a flu immunization! Science has demonstrated that this is the most effective tool we currently have to prevent flu.

Step 2: Wash your hands often. If soap and water is not available, use a hand sanitizer, which will remove germs, but not visible dirt.

Step 3: Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Step 4: After you use a tissue, discard of it properly in the trash.

Step 5: Do not to put your fingers in your mouth, nose or eyes or touch your face with dirty hands.

Step 6: Clean and disinfect frequently shared surfaces.

Step 7: Stay home when you are sick.

Step 8: Do not visit other who are sick with flu-like illnesses.

Step 9: Take care of yourself: eat a variety of healthy foods, drink lots of water, get your sleep and some exercise.

Step 10: Get a flu immunization!

While steps 2 through 9 will also help prevent colds and other flu-like illnesses, never underestimate the power of step 2. As simple as it may seem, this action not only helps to prevent the spread of colds and the flu, it also helps to protect against food borne illness, which affects millions of people each year and results in about 5,000 preventable deaths.

            In the late 1800’s, it was recognized in an experiment by Dr. Semmelweis working in a hospital in Vienna that fewer women died from childbirth when doctors and medical students washed their hands after working in the lab and in-between patients. This seems like common sense to us today, but prior to that recognition, this was not routinely done. The recognition of handwashing and its ability to prevent the spread of germs was a huge contributor for improving  public health. Throughout the years, multiple studies have continued to document the importance of handwashing and its relationship to health. 

To be effective, hand washing should include the use of soap and water, friction for at least 20 seconds (rubbing together), and a thorough rinsing and drying.  Most soap is effective for reducing bacteria on the hands. 

            Washing hands with soap and water is still the first choice for cleaning hands but hand sanitizers have become very popular. Kids carry them to school; you see them as you walk into the doctor’s office or the grocery store. Many people have asked, are they effective? The answer is in the absence of soap and water, these products are effective in reducing the number of microorganisms on your hands (but do not eliminate them all.)  They are not an acceptable alternative when hands are visibly soiled (appear dirty) as they do not remove dirt. When using a hand sanitizers:

  • Be sure it is an alcohol-based product, containing at least 60% alcohol.  (Others are ineffective.)
  • It should not contain bleach or other harsh ingredients that could present a health hazard.
  • Be sure to cover all the surfaces of your hands and fingers.
  • Wipes or towelettes designed for use on hands are another option, and should also be 60% or more alcohol-based.

CT Department of Public Health Fact Sheet on Hand Sanitizers also

            suggests the following:

  • Use caution with children. If ingested, they can be harmful.
  • Non-alcohol based hand-rub sanitizers (usually foams) contain benzethonium chloride, a type of ammonia. These sanitizers have not been proven to be as effective as alcohol-based sanitizers against viruses.
  • Limit the use of anti-microbial found in many liquid and bar soaps. Overuse of these may lead to the development of resistant bacteria. They are no more effective in removing germs than soap and water.
  • Avoid liquid hand soaps with the active ingredient triclosan. The chemical has raised health concerns.

            Quinnipiack Valley Health District is the public health department for Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge. You can access a copy of the State of CT

Fact Sheet on Hand Sanitizers to post in your home, school or workplace. If you do not have internet access, residents of the district can call Quinnipiack Valley Health District, 203 248-4528.