No matter how well you take care of yourself, it's inevitable that someone in your household will come down with the most prevalent infectious diseases around -- a cold or the flu. But when one of your nearest and dearest is sneezing up a storm, is the whole family doomed to suffer the same fate? By taking proper precautions, you can sidestep an all-out household contamination.
How do you pass it on?
The typical noises you make when you're sick are your body's way of telling you it's trying to dispel the virus. When you sneeze or cough, you eject droplets of the virus into the air, putting people near you at risk of inhaling those droplets and becoming infected with your virus. Droplets can also contaminate surfaces, spreading germs if someone were to touch a compromised surface and then rub their nose, eyes or mouth.
Dr. Arlene King, director of the immunization and respiratory infections division at the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests keeping tissues on hand. Using a tissue to cover your mouth and nose before coughing or sneezing will help to prevent you from sharing your germs with others. Teach your children to do the same and always send them out the door with some tissues in their pocket. If you find yourself on the brink of a cough or a sneeze and you're out of tissues, turn your head and use the upper part of your sleeve to catch the spray.
When someone in your household is infected, be diligent about cleaning common household surfaces such as the phone and remote control. Try the All-Purpose Household Cleanser recipe from the Germs Begone! article in the November 2005 issue of Canadian Living.
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To each his own -- towel, that is
Rather than keeping a couple of communal towels in the bathroom, which can spread germs between family members, everyone should have his or her own towel. In high-traffic areas like the kitchen, consider disposable paper towels rather than cloth dishtowels that are used repeatedly.
Eat your fruits and veggies
A strong immune system can be your best protection against infectious diseases. To shorten the life span of an illness, include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet.
A lack of sleep, particularly in children, can weaken the body's defences against viruses. Stick to a strict nap and nighttime schedule for your children and try to get eight hours of rest.
When it comes to influenza, consider vaccinating your family annually with the flu shot. According to King, the vaccination can lessen the severity of the illness or prevent infection altogether. This is particularly important if you have family members who are considered at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu -- such as very young children or the elderly. Discuss this option with your family doctor.
And the winner is...
We've said it before and we'll say it again, nothing beats good old-fashioned hand washing. "It's the best method of infection control," says King. Be particularly thorough after sneezing or coughing and encourage your children to make hand washing a lifelong habit. For eight easy steps to sparkling clean hands, read the article titled Germs Begone! in the November 2005 issue of Canadian Living.
Although a cold and/or flu is tough to avoid entirely, taking a few precautions and staying dedicated in the fight can limit the spread of illness in your household. And that means a happier, healthier family life for all.
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