Keeping Your Family Safe from the Cold & Flu

Parents do everything possible to limit germs in the home when a new baby joins the family. But during cold and flu season, it's equally important to do the same thing to protect children and adults of all ages. Remember when you asked everyone who wanted to hold your baby to wash their hands first? Now is the time to bring back that practice for anyone who is going to handle food or touch surfaces in your home!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the flu vaccine as the single best way to prevent the seasonal flu from invading your home. Keeping germs from being passed around and reducing the germs that are brought into the home can also help. Knowing and following some simple tips can keep your family healthy all year long.
Practice the Basics
While it might not be possible to prevent all illnesses, keeping some basic health principles in mind and putting them into practice can limit the passage of germs around the house.
  • Encourage everyone in your home to avoid close contact with anyone who is showing cold or flu symptoms. Consider splitting up children (or adults) sharing a bed or room for a few days to limit who is breathing on whom during sleep. Be sure to wash the linens when the illness has passed before regular sleeping arrangements are resumed.
  • Make it a practice not to share drinking glasses, utensils or food, including adults finishing the food or drinks of children. Eliminate the community cup in the bathroom. Provide each person with one of their own or consider small, disposable cups. Remember to wash cups regularly, especially after an illness.
  • Cover your cough with a tissue or your elbow to reduce germs in the air that others in the home might breathe. Older adults who learned to cover their mouth with a hand might need to learn the practice of using an elbow.
  • Limit touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible to keep germs from getting into the body through mucous membranes.
  • Wash hands with soap and water. This might seem basic, but it is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of many illnesses. Remember to wash hands before, during and after preparing food and before eating meals or snacks, as well as before and after tending to someone who is sick. Wash hands every time after using the toilet, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, touching garbage, petting animals or changing a diaper.
  • Change shared hand towels in the home regularly. If someone in the home is ill and washing their hands frequently, provide a specific hand towel for them and replace it daily or consider using disposable paper towels for a short time.
  • After someone has recovered from illness, replace their toothbrush, and make sure to house it away from the rest of the family's brushes during their illness.  
  • Wash shared throws or blankets frequently, especially during an illness outbreak.
  • Don’t use hand sanitizers in place of soap and water when they are available as hand sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.
  • Clean and disinfect common household surfaces and objects where germs can easily be transmitted from one member of the household to another. Use antibacterial wipes, solutions or homemade disinfectants to regularly wipe down commonly touched surfaces from door knobs to light switches. Don’t forget about phones, handrails, remote controls and game controllers, ear buds and headphones, the refrigerator and microwave door handles, toilet and faucet handles, computer keyboards and tablet screens.
Keep the Germs Out
Unless you live in a bubble, your family is out and about and in contact with germs every day. Limiting the germs that enter your home is another way to limit the spread of illness throughout the household.
  • Shoes are the number one way germs enter the home. Establish a no-shoes-in-the-house policy to limit the germs brought in from the places you have been. This is especially important when there are young children playing and crawling on floors and carpets. Establish a place for shoes near the door most frequently used to enter and exit the home as well a chair or bench to assist with their removal.
  • Hands have been in contact with many germs while away.  Encourage everyone to wash their hands after they have removed their shoes.
  • Keep diaper bags, backpacks, lunch bags, purses and gym bags as germ free as possible. Try to hang them on hooks, on the back of a chair or in a designated space that can be sanitized with wipes at school, work or the gym (and wipe them down periodically). Avoid putting bags on floors, especially in bathrooms, locker rooms or the bus, where people frequently walk. When you bring them inside the home, have a designated spot for them, preferably one that isn’t on the kitchen counter or table. Hooks in a laundry room or entryway above the shoe mat are ideal and handy.
  • Frequently wash sweaters, sweatshirts and coats that are worn more than once, especially if they are worn outside the home.
  • Limit the use of public water fountains at school or in the office by taking a personal water bottle with you. This might require getting special permission from school. Be sure to wash bottles each evening with hot, soapy water.
  • Sit on a towel when using gym equipment. Have children take their own wipe down towel for sporting practices and games to avoid using joint team options.  Make sure they are put directly in the hamper when returning home.
  • Don’t forget about the car, especially during cold and flu season. Spray the interior weekly with an antibacterial spray or use disinfectant car wipes (available at most auto stores), especially on the steering wheel.
  • A dry house can dry out mucous membranes in the nose, making infection easier. Humidify the home with a whole house humidifier attached to your heating system or with small personal and room humidifiers during winter months to limit infection from bugs that do enter the home.
Simple habits during cold and flu season can help protect your family from germs. You can also help boost their immune systems by feeding them a balanced diet, full of fruits and vegetables.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School,", accessed on August 12, 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Wash Your Hands,", accessed on August 12, 2013.
National Geographic Kids, "20 Tips for a Germ-Free School Year,", accessed on August 12, 2013.
SheKnows Health & Wellness, "5 Ways to Protect Your Family from the Flu,", accessed on August 12, 2013.
She Knows Health & Wellness, "6 Ways to Keep Your Home Germ-Free this Flu Season,", accessed on August 12, 2013.
Web MD, "When Kids are Sick: How to Prevent Germs from Spreading,", accessed on August 12, 2013.