As I sit here typing this, the husband is in bed with that dreaded lurgy – the man flu (aka a cold), the baby is congested and sicking up mucus, I have a pounding headache and a dicky stomach and grandma is absolutely fine because for some reason she has literally never been sick. Unfortunately since I can’t figure out exactly what gives her an apparent immunity to everything (never even seen her have a cold in my life and she claims to not even know what a headache would feel like!) I have to focus on what I can do to keep our germs contained and how to stop the common cold from spreading.
It seems like when one of us gets sick, we all do. Sometimes at the same time and sometimes in tandem, resulting in a month’s worth of misery in one form or another and I’ve been burning the midnight oil frantically researching professional advice on how to put a lid on the cold or stomach bug and keep it contained. So how do you keep your family fit when one person is sick? Is it inevitable that everyone will catch it?
Realistically the common cold – along with a host of other ailments – is very contagious and it’s hard to be in close proximity to people without catching it, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the risks.
Stop Colds by Washing Your Hands
We all know this one I’m sure, but just in case – wash your hands! All the time! One of the most effective things at keeping nasties at bay is simple hand washing. Around 80% of infection diseases (CDC, 2013) are spread by touch. Since we are always going to touch something, the most effective way is to make sure there’s no invisible germs on our hands that can be transferred to another person. Hot water and soap for a minimum of 20 seconds is advised, but a dab of hand sanitizer after washing will also help kill anyone elses nasties. Plus it tastes gross, so if you’re in the habit of eating with your hands or biting your nails it’ll make you think twice!
If you’re no where near a sink right now, like out at playgroup picking up toys that have been in other peoples mouths or in a meeting at the office shaking a million hands then a 60%+ alcohol hand sanitizer will still zap most things.
Tip! Make hand washing fun for kids by using soap in the shape of their favourite character or hand wash in their favourite smell. For very little ones, make up a song you sing together whilst you wash your hands.
Don’t Use your Hands to Sneeze or Cough
Everyone knows it’s polite to cover your nose or mouth but a lot of people cover it with their hands. Of course the problem there is the germs go on your hands and then to everything you touch. Teach your kids to cough or sneeze into tissue or hanky, but if one isn’t handy, even using your upper arm sleeve or crook of your elbow to cover yourself as you sneeze is better than hands. This is unlikely to touch much and can be popped in the wash when you get home.
We might spend a lot of time teaching our kids to share but the last thing you want to do when you’re sick is share. This goes for everything – don’t use the same cutlery, don’t drink out of the same cup / bottle, or share a plate, but also for things like the bathroom. Do you share towels? My husband and I often share a towel or we’ll dry the baby with a towel after drying ourselves (after all, we’re clean, right?!) but if you’re ill you can easily spread germs this way.
Be Strict About Visitors
Auntie Doris wants to visit but she’s coughing up all over the place? People often know not to visit the elderly when they’ve got a cold, but in my experience there’s a lot more care given to visiting families with children. Even a simple cold can put a family out of sorts for weeks, resulting in missed school, missed work and a really miserable time for everyone. It might not be life threatening, but it’s really not worth it for a cup of tea and a catch up with a relative. Unless it’s super important, limit contact with people who are showing any symptoms of contagious health problems. It’s not just colds either – there are some serious stomach bugs that often get spread such as norovirus, the “winter vomiting bug”, as well as the more serious flu, because people aren’t quarantining themselves.
Whilst we can’t take time off work and school because of a minor cold, if you do think you potentially have the flu or something more serious, it’s definitely worth keeping yourself at home for a few days where possible and not spreading it to other folks.
Break the Cycle
The problem with a lot of illnesses is by the time the symptoms are showing, the contagious period has already been rampant, so the cycle keeps going. It’s no good if you only wash your hands when you’re already sick. It’s no good if you pass the beaker of water around when you’re out every day. You need to keep up with these tips to break the cycle so that when one person gets sick you’re already confident there hasn’t been any cross contamination. So try to be vigilant – of course, you have to be practical and keep having fun too!
Ultimately if everyone gets sick, it’s not because you did anything wrong or weren’t good enough at keeping things under control. Colds spread like wildfire and being invisible really gives them the edge. Since we’re not spending our lives walking around in biohazard suits (perhaps that’s next seasons fashion?) there’s never any real way to keep a cold locked down, but I hope these tips have helped a little!