There are many ways to keep germs from spreading in your house when someone is sick, but nothing works better than everyone washing hands properly.
“It’s the magic key,” says Charlotte Wallace, a community health nurse at Anne Arundel Medical Center. “Everyone can take a breath. Hand-washing is enough. You just have to do it, and do it properly.”
Invariably, when someone in the family is sick, parents want to know where to focus their attention to combat germs and stop them from spreading. Here are some tips from Charlotte Wallace; Barbara O’Connor, infection control manager at Howard County General Hospital; and Mary Wallace, director of infection prevention at University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center.
- Wash your hands properly. According to Charlotte Wallace, all you need is soap, water and friction to get germs off hands. Make sure to wash for at least 15 to 20 seconds, O’Connor adds, and don’t worry about antibacterial soap.
“It’s not what you use, but how you use it,” O’Connor says. “If you use the best antibacterial soap but don’t wash for long enough, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Antimicrobial soap can also lead to the creation of superbugs, Charlotte Wallace says. Hand sanitizer can be used in a pinch, but it doesn’t eliminate all types of germs, she says.
- Don’t touch your face. If you have germs on your hands, there is no way they can get into your system unless you put your finger in your nose, mouth or eyes, the nurses agree. “Touching your eyes is a good way to catch a respiratory illness,” O’Connor says. Teach kids to keep their hands away from their face.
- Cough in your elbow or onto the floor. “If Mom or Dad is sick, think about wearing a mask,” Mary Wallace adds.
- Follow cleaning product instructions. “The most important thing is to use cleaners as directed,” O’Connor says. “It’s not so much what you use, but how you use it.” Some cleaners need to be left on a surface for a specific amount of time to be effective, she points out.
Charlotte Wallace says a disinfectant designed to kill bugs is necessary when cleaning germs. The nurses agree that a hydrogen peroxide solution or wipes are a good choice. Wipes with bleach make great cleaners but should be used with caution around children. Children also should not be in the room when parents are cleaning, they say, and all toys should be rinsed and dried before given back to children.
- Focus on high-touch surfaces. This means “anything that multiple hands come in contact with,” Mary Wallace says. Clean doorknobs, toilet and sink handles, light switches, counters, remotes, key boards, phones, toys, towels and counters.
- Replace or clean individual items. Move toothbrushes away from the toilet, and replace them every six months and/or boil them, the nurses say. Put toys in the dishwasher if it’s safe to do so.
- Don’t share. No one should be sharing towels, washcloths, cups, dishes or even toys. Sick and well children should be separated.
- Stay home. Sick children or adults should stay home to limit the spread of germs.
By Betsy Stein