It’s Winter Germ Season

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Top Tier Gear USA

Can you prevent getting a bout of flu or a winter vomiting bug as its so inelegantly called here in the UK?  Well, not entirely, but here’s a hell of a lot you can do to minimise your chances of getting either of these very common, debilitating and for those who are very young or fighting other illnesses, sometimes fatal conditions. Firstly, realise that you can’t prevent others from walking around and happily sharing their germs with everyone else including you, it’s your actions that make the difference not theirs.

On returning home, wash your hands before going about your normal business.

Now, a few facts for you:

  • The toilet seat is not the most germ infested place in the house
  • The bathroom door handle is worse
  • The telephone handset is worse still
  • The computer keyboard is even worse
  • The TV remote has more germs on it than any other item in a home cleaned to a reasonable standard…
  •  BUT, the very worst thing is…..I’ll tell you in a minute.

By giving these items a quick once over with a baby wipe every day, or more often if someone in the house already has a cold, you cut your chances of not only catching a cold or flu but of getting many of the gastrointestinal viruses that do the rounds at this time of year.

When you’re  out and about, there are some quite obvious germ hotspots you can easily avoid. In public washrooms if you have to open a door after washing your hands, go right down to the bottom of the bar handle, most people grab the middle and if they have a cold, or worse haven’t washed their hands after using the facilities, God knows what you are getting onto your nice clean hands. For regular handles keep a tissue in your pocket and use that as a barrier between your hand and the handle.

In lifts, push the button with your knuckle, that way if you touch your face with your fingertips you are less likely to transfer germs,  and avoid holding onto the rails or grab bars if possible. If you are in an elevator with someone who has a cold, turn away from them, if the germs don’t get into you, you don’t get a cold. Simple. On public transport, if you can keep you head tilted slightly downwards you are less likely to get a million germs sneezed into your face, and you are more likely to scratch your face through the scarf, again stopping germ transfer. A scarf, even a very lightweight one in front of your nose and mouth is a very effective barrier.

As I said, if the germs don’t get into you, you don’t get sick and other than getting directly coughed and sneezed on it’s your hands that transfer most germs from the outside to the inside of your body. WASH THEM OFTEN. That single action, if employed routinely by everyone would massively diminish the amount of germs that are passed from person to person.

Cold and flu viruses can live on hard surfaces for up to 72 hours and on soft surfaces for up to 24 hours, that’s a long time, and at any point during that time you get those germs onto your hands, and then touch your nose or mouth you are effectively giving these unwanted passengers a lift right to your respiratory system. Gastrointestinal viruses can survive quite well for even longer periods.

Okay, I said I’d tell you what the dirtiest thing is…it’s money, paper money. Paper money has millions more germs on it than its nearest rival the TV remote. Every person that has touched that money has either taken some germs off it, added some germs to it or both. The shop assistant with a streaming cold, the woman he handed it to with an upset stomach, the person who doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, little nephew Tommy who you sent it to in a birthday card, remnants of a discarded McMeal, dog faeces and cat pee when Tommy dropped it on the floor showing his friends in the street.

Everywhere that note has been is represented on its surface. Of course some bugs will die, but some will be inside your purse and wallet, in your jeans pocket, and on your skin way before they die, and all of them have the possibility of causing illness. Some even like the nice cosy sometimes damp paper and will breed on it quite happily. Others are spores that can live for 70 days on almost any surface. These can cause many illnesses including Clostridium difficile, a very nasty and sometimes life threatening condition causing chronic diarrhoea.  Now obviously there is no avoiding this issue, especially for those of us that prefer cash to plastic. What you can do however is minimise your risk. Don’t touch your face with your bare hands after touching paper money, wash your hands or use sanitizer. In winter, wear your gloves, have a couple of pairs and wash them frequently. Wipe the inside of your money purse at least once a week.

The problem with paper money is far worse abroad and warning about this is part of the welcoming chat on arriving at many resorts. Most people traveling in the Middle East don’t contract stomach upsets from the food or water, it’s from the money. As I said it’s so bad the travel reps mention it at the welcome meeting! I am incredibly fussy over handling paper money and hand hygiene when I am abroad, employing plastic ziplock bags, spray sanitizer and even the ice box in my room to kill off bugs that my system is not used to and that frequently cause quite severe illness in foreign travellers.

I admit I am not so fussy in the UK, I don’t bother with the plastic bag and I don’t freeze my notes. I still use the hand sanitizer and I use an antibacterial wipe on the inside of my money purse once a week, I still wash my hands as soon as possible after using a shop, any shop, any form of public transport, and every time I have used an elevator. Some will think this is over the top, I can see why, but what I will tell you is I have had two bouts of flu in my adult life  and no gastro issues that I can recall. My child is wonderfully healthy and it is all down primarily to one simple thing.


Take control this flu season, wash your hands often, use sanitizer when you can’t get to soap and water. Teach your family and anyone else who will listen the benefits of hand hygiene and give yourself a decent chance of avoiding flu and winter stomach bugs this year.


When travelling abroad putting the (paper money)notes in a ziplock bag, spraying them with sanitizer whilst in the bag and stuffing them in the icebox of the mini fridge in your room seems to work. For those having backpacker type vacations where this may be difficult carry a pack of baby wipes and hand sanitizer about you at all times and use them both religiously after handling money, and regularly throughout the day. Wipe all cutlery before use if you have ANY doubt about the place you are eating in. When in the Middle East, North Africa or the Indian sub-continent remember the differences in culture and hygiene standards. These regions have particularly virulent bacteria and viruses in the general population that your system will not cope with and that causes very serious illnesses in travelers on a very regular basis. NEVER let young children or anyone with any immunity issues handle paper money in these regions.  In addition to the usual Delhi Belly/Montezuma’s Revenge type issues parasitic illnesses abound and often appear a couple of weeks after exposure leading to hospitalization on your return.

Take Care


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Contributed by Lizzie Bennett of Underground Medic.

Lizzie Bennett retired from her job as a senior operating department practitioner in the UK earlier this year. Her field was trauma and accident and emergency and she has served on major catastrophe teams around the UK. Lizzie publishes Underground Medic on the topic of preparedness.

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