The cold and flu season is here, and with the additional threat of swine flu (H1N1), have you considered how you'll attempt to keep your family healthy this winter?
Admittedly, my family is more germ-aware than some others because our oldest, who was born 3 1/2 months premature, has somewhat delicate health. But even if you don't have these sorts of concerns, taking a few steps to ensure your family's health can pay off in a big way.
Here are a few things we've found make a tremendous difference in our family's health:
* Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizer by the front and back doors. Also keep a small bottle in your purse or diaper bag and in the car's glove compartment. When a sick neighbor is visiting, or you walk through a store full of sneezing people, use the hand sanitizer liberally. According to the Mayo Clinic, hand sanitizer is more effective than soap and water, but be sure to keep it out of reach of small children (who might consume the sanitizer and suffer from alcohol poisoning). Incidentally, because my hands dry out easily, I buy sanitizer that includes aloe in its ingredients; it really saves my skin.
* Keep antibacterial wipes (like Wet Ones) in the glove compartment. I prefer the type in a plastic tub because I find they are less likely to dry out before I use them. We use these primarily for wiping down any part of shopping carts my children or I will touch.
* In your war against germs, however, don't use other antibacterial soaps or cleaners. Scientists say the regular use of antibacterial soaps may lead to bacteria that are more resistant.
* Learn to properly hand wash. Get your hands wet. Soap up. Scrub every part of your hands for at least 20 seconds. Rinse thoroughly and dry. Teach small children to sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "Happy Birthday" while they scrub; otherwise, they may not wash long enough.
* Make sure your family washes their hands before eating. Try to teach children to keep their hands out of their mouths and away from their eyes and noses. (For tips on accomplishing this, click here.)
* By now most of us know the new way to sneeze or cough is into your elbow, not your hand. As a mom, I have mixed feelings about this. If I sneeze into my elbow, then pick up one of my children, they are likely to get a face full of germs. Therefore, my personal choice is to sneeze into my hand - as long as I know I can wash them immediately after sneezing. Otherwise, I sneeze into my elbow. (By the way, the photo accompanying this post is from the CDC and shows just how germ-spreading sneezes can be...)
* Know where the germiest places are: Playgrounds, shopping carts, bathrooms, ATM buttons, your purse, doorknobs, health center exercise machines, etc.
* Avoid indoor playgroups. Even in the rain or snow, kids prefer to play outside, anyway.
* Make a strict rule about no sick kids at playgroup, daycare, Sunday school class, or other kid-events. Don't be afraid to walk out if a sick child is present.
* Know the symptoms of swine flu and don't be afraid to take your child or yourself to the doctor if you have the symptoms. If you are sick, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly advise you to stay home, except to see the doctor.
* Clean doorknobs, sink knobs, the phone, and other high-germ areas in your home frequently.
* Wash your hands periodically throughout the day.
* Keep favorite cold and flu remedies handy. In our house, we like Alka Seltzer Cold Remedy, saline solution (for stuffy noses), Tylenol, Aspirin, and Zicam Oral Mist Cold Remedy. We use the Zicam at the first hint of a cold, and think it prevents colds from getting worse. In our opinion, the oral mist version works best.
* Expect some people to think you're strange for making efforts to stay away from germs. Most people have a laissez faire attitude about getting sick, but when you have kids, sick time equals less school time, less family fun time, and more work for mom. And this year, more caution than usual is endorsed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In the end, it doesn't matter what other people think. Do what you need to do to protect your family.