Ah, winter. The time of year when you light some candles in the dark evenings, embrace your fleece sweaters and fuzzy socks and cook up pots of chili or soup. Unfortunately, this cozy season also brings a higher risk of colds, flu and viruses. So, keeping your family healthy and safe is more important than ever. Here are seven smart tips that can help.
1. Get up to date on your vaccines
“Immunizations are essential. They really are the first step in helping to safeguard ourselves against some serious, and sometimes deadly, diseases known to make people sick,” said Devin Minior, MD, chief medical officer at Banner Urgent Care.
The flu shot is a must for just about everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. Depending on your age and health, you may also need a COVID-19 booster or other immunizations, including ones for RSV and pneumococcal infections like pneumonia.
Also remember, it takes about two weeks after getting vaccinated for best protection.
2. Clean and disinfect high-touch and horizontal surfaces in your home
Help prevent illnesses and infections by getting rid of the germs that can thrive in your home. When you’re cleaning and disinfecting, pay special attention to countertops, tables, chair arms, door handles, toilet handles, phones, light switches, remote controls, keyboards and mice, and cabinet knobs. These items are notorious for collecting germs that can cause infections, such as E. coli and staphylococcus.
3. Wash your hands
Germy hands can spread respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases. Make sure you wash your hands when you come home, before you prepare or eat food and anytime you need to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. And a quick splash under running water doesn’t cut it. Use soap and warm water and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds. Make sure you scrub your nails, the backs of your hands and between your fingers. Then dry your hands with a clean towel.
Soap and water are the best way to clean your hands, but if that’s not available, a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol can get rid of some germs.
4. Teach your kids how to avoid germs at school
Kids tend to get sick more often than adults since their immune systems aren’t as mature. Plus, they’re more likely to be in close contact with others. But they can take steps to avoid catching every bug that’s going around.
“Discuss with your child the importance of good hygiene and simple ways they can help stop the spread of unwanted germs and viruses,” said Dr. Minior.
Remind your kids to wash their hands before eating and after using the bathroom. If they can’t wash their hands—for example, if they are on a field trip—it’s a good idea to use a hand sanitizer and rub it in until their hands are dry.
They should cover their coughs and sneezes and do their best to stay away from classmates who are coughing or sneezing. They can also help prevent the spread of germs if they use their own pens, pencils and crayons—no sharing. And they also shouldn’t be sharing food, drinks, lip balm or other personal items.
5. Stay home if you are sick
You should always stay home if you don’t feel well. You may feel like you need to push through and work when you’re under the weather, but that’s not a good idea.
“You risk spreading your illness to your coworkers and customers,” Dr. Minior said. “And what might seem like a minor illness to you could be dangerous or deadly for someone who is older, immunocompromised or has other health conditions. Plus, resting when you’re sick can help you recover more quickly.”
The same advice holds true for your children, too—keep them home from school if they are sick.
6. Clean or replace your air filters
Winter is an excellent time to check and make sure your air filters in the HVAC system are in good working order. “Air filters remove pollen and other allergens as the air passes through them,” said Dr. Minior. “Clogged filters can lead to carbon monoxide buildup. It’s especially important to check your air filters if you live in an area where fires have been breaking out.”
7. Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors are installed and working
It’s not just viruses that are bigger threats in winter. This season brings a higher risk of fires since you’re more likely to be lighting candles and burning fires in fireplaces. Heaters that don’t work properly can also be a fire risk. And using heaters can increase the risk of carbon monoxide buildup.
Check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors. When they work correctly, they can help you and your family escape if a fire breaks out or you have high carbon monoxide levels in your home.
The bottom line
Viral infections are more likely to spread during the winter, but you can take steps to help prevent them. If you or someone in your family is showing signs of a cold, the flu or COVID-19, visit a Banner Urgent Care near you or schedule a visit with your doctor to get the medical care you need right away.
Other useful articles:
- How to Avoid a Sore Arm After a Flu Shot
- DIY Disinfectants: Are They Safe and Effective?
- How to Choose the Best Medication to Treat Your Cold or Flu
- Your Coronavirus Shopping List: What to Buy and What to Skip