Can you prevent getting a bout of flu or a winter vomiting bug as its so inelegantly called here in the UK? What about a touch of Dehli Belly when travelling or the kids bringing something home from school? 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 from any trip 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 if someone who is obviously unwell has touched it before you.
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 also survive quite well for even longer periods, up to 70 DAYS in the case of clostridium difficile spores.
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, whom you sent it to in a birthday card, added remnants of a discarded McMeal, dog faeces and cat pee when he 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 the winter, wear your gloves, have a couple of pairs and wash them frequently.
Now some of the bugs on paper money you will be immune to, they are germs that are common in your community and you have become used to them. It’s when the money picks up germs that are uncommon in your area that disease outbreaks can, and do occur.
The main thing that can stop disease outbreaks from becoming epidemics, or even pandemics is quite simple and very cheap:
Emerging diseases such as MERS are respiratory in nature and the same precautions apply as for the common cold and flu. With more and more respiratory illnesses making the jump from animals to humans prevention is the key to preventing their spread and protecting ourselves and our families from harm.
When travelling abroad putting the notes in a zip lock 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 travellers 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 Montezuma’s Revenge type issues parasitic illnesses abound and often appear a couple of weeks after exposure leading to hospitalisation on your return.
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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.