Now that the holidays are over, the capital city is buzzing: students are back in town, employees are back at work and legislators are filing into town for session. Unfortunately, all the hustle-and-bustle can lead to more opportunities for sicknesses to spread.
Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports this years flu season could be the most severe in several years. Florida, along with 45 other states, is reporting widespread influenza activity.
Now, more than ever, we need to take steps to prevent the spread of germs and illness.
While covering coughs and frequent hand washing is essential, knowing where germs like to hide is also important to halt the spread of infection. It’s common to avoid sharing drinks or shaking hands when someone is sick, but germs lurk in many places you may not expect. In fact, the flu can live on some surfaces for up to 24 hours.
Unexpected Hiding Places
Some unexpected hiding places for germs include:
Restaurant ketchup bottles – Around any highly touched object it’s smart to be cautious and in a restaurant many people reach for the ketchup bottle. It’s also something we touch right before we use our hands to pick up the fries or burger we’re eating.
Your defense: Carry around a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer with you to disinfect before digging in.
Cell phones – We carry our phones with us where ever we go: from our office desk, to the car, to the surface next to us while we cook. All along the way, our phones act as a vehicle to carry germs from destination to destination.
Your defense: Frequently wipe down your phone with disinfecting wipes to get rid of any unwanted bacteria.
Sponges – It’s porous, often damp and lives in the dirtiest place in your kitchen: the sink. Bacteria from old food, raw meats and dairy can be easily trapped in sponges, making it easy to cross-contaminate clean dishes and counters.
Your defense: Replace sponges often and soak them in bleach to kill off any harmful bacteria.
Toothbrushes – A toothbrush by the bathroom sink can be an ideal place for germs to live. Not only is it brushing your mouth multiple times a day, your toothbrush can be contaminated by the spray of water particles from a flushing toilet if it’s in too close of proximity.
Your defense: Store your toothbrush upright so water can wick away from the bristles. Never store a wet toothbrush in a closed case and keep it as far as possible from the toilet. Additionally, close the toilet lid before flushing.
The gym – While exercise is a great way to stay health, working out at a gym is an easy place to catch an illness. With so many including working out more on their New Year’s resolution, this time of year is the busiest time for most gyms.
Your defense: Sanitize your hands as much as possible while you work out. Consider skipping the gym if you feel sick so you don’t spread your sickness to others.
Fortunately, exposure to germs isn’t always bad; our immune system is quite good at keeping us safe. However, during peak flu season, it never hurts to be more cautious than usual.
Know the Symptoms
If you do suspect you’ve caught the flu, here are common symptoms:
- High fever
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Nasal congestion
- Muscle pain
- Fatigue (feeling very tired)
If you’ve been in close contact with a family member, friend or co-worker who has the flu, contact your primary care provider to discuss a treatment plan for flu exposure. It’s possible to reduce the severity of symptoms, even prior to actually catching the flu.
One of the best lines of defense for fighting off the flu, or any infection, is washing your hands often. It helps to be cautious, so if you feel you’ve touched anything particularly germy, take a few moments to wash your hands thoroughly.
To learn more about the Tallahassee Family Medicine Residency Program, visit TMH.ORG/FamilyMedicine.