With fears of swine flu spreading, sales of hand sanitizers and anti-bacterial soaps are soaring. But studies have shown that you don’t need all those chemicals and high-priced, individually-packaged cleaning products. The best steps you can take to prevent getting sick from swine flu – in addition to a host of other more serious infections, including salmonella, strep, staph, E. coli on down to the common cold — are far simpler and considerably more eco-friendly.
You can’t avoid exposure to these common disease-causing critters – they are simply present in the world around us. But you can take simple steps to keep yourself and your family safe from dangerous infectious viruses and bacteria.
1. Stop Shaking Hands
Unless you’re a politician, you can keep the hand-pumping to a minimum. Kissing hello and goodbye on the cheek may actually be even safer than a firm handshake – and a lot more fun. If you can pull it off, consider blowing kisses (though admittedly, this is a far cuter gesture when executed by a baby). Or perhaps you could single-handedly bring back the Eurotrash custom of air kissing — sure it’s been deservedly dissed as pretentious, but it’s oh-so-sanitary. We all must be brave when facing down epidemics.
2. Clean Your Computer Keyboard
Especially if you share your computer with the family or co-workers, it is vital to disinfect this gadget that your fingers come into contact with for hours every day. Use straight alcohol – no, do not spray it on the keyboard. Spray it on a clean cloth or paper towel and then wipe the keyboard several times.
3. Wash Your Hands – but you’re probably doing it wrong.
The Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control say that the single most important step you can take to stop the spread of infectious diseases is to wash your hands. Soap and water can be even more effective than some hand rubs with alcohol.
4. The best technique – rub, rub, rub and take your time.
You have to scrub both hands, inside, outside, interlacing fingers and then rubbing energetically, like a miser who has just discovered that his stock portfolio did not really drop 40% in the last four months – for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday to You twice.
5. Don’t touch the doorknob on your way out.
So you’ve just washed your hands, sung a heart-rending version of “I Did It My Way,” and you figure you’re clean as a whistle and safe from germs. Then you unlock the bathroom door, turn the door knob – and boom – you may as well not have bothered washing your hands.
Here’s how that scene should have gone. After washing, you wipe your hands with a recycled paper towel (yes, it is safer than blow-drying, as you’ll see if you just keep reading), and then use that towel to turn off the water faucet and to grab the door handle on your way out. Even in your very own bathroom at home, door locks, light switches and door handles are the hard-to-clean surfaces that play a large role in transmitting disease.
6. Do not touch your eyes or your nose with your hands.
Yes, this is a hard one. As soon as you even think about not touching your nose, it starts to itch. Especially when you are on the subway or train or plane and someone has just passed by coughing. Remember, the germs on your hands are not dangerous at all until you put them in contact with the vulnerable eyes and nasal passages. Solution: cover your face if someone nearby is coughing or sneezing, but do not actually touch your face. And as for rubbing your eyes or nose – just make sure you carry recycled tissues with you, and cover your fingers with the clean tissue before you (gently) dab your eye or scratch that itch.
7. Hand sanitizers work – but not all of them
It’s fine to buy hand sanitizers and schlep them around with you if you are spending a lot of time beyond the reach of a sink. They work – but only if they are at least 60% alcohol. Otherwise, soap and water work just as well.