Column: Outsmart germs this winter


Commentary by Dr. Jessica Swenberg



There are things to like about winter, but the prevalence of illness isn’t one of them. Preventing germs from spreading is even more important during winter because colds, flu and other diseases tend to be more common during this time of year. And if one member of your family becomes ill, taking preventive steps at home to help ensure others don’t “catch it” can be challenging. Here are some tips for battling germs this season:

Be diligent about hand washing. Thorough and frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent germs from spreading. Use soap and warm water, and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. If a sink and soap are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Small bottles of hand sanitizer are great to stash in your car, purse or briefcase for cleaning hands on the go.

Cover your cough. If possible, cough or sneeze into a tissue and then immediately discard. Resist coughing or sneezing into your hand, as you’ll spread germs to the next thing you touch. If tissues aren’t readily available, cough or sneeze into your elbow.

Use disinfectant. If someone in your family is sick, use antibacterial wipes to disinfect frequently used surfaces and items, such as phones, remotes, computer keyboards and doorknobs. These are also good strategies to use at work, especially if you share space with co-workers.

Use disposables. Germs linger on cloth hand towels and dish cloths, creating a breeding ground for germs. If someone in the house is ill, consider using disposable paper towels instead. After an illness, it’s a good idea to change your toothbrush as well.

Generally avoid sharing drinks, food and lip balms with others. It’s also important to take care of yourself to help your immune system fight off disease. This means eating nutritious foods, exercising and getting enough sleep. If you haven’t already received a flu vaccine, talk to your doctor. Also be sure to consult your primary care doctor if you become ill, and symptoms worsen or persist for more than a few days.

Jessica Swenberg, MD, specializes in family medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Family Medicine, 55 Brendon Way, Suite 800, Zionsville. She may be reached by calling 777-6400.

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