Coughing, sneezing and misery are a part of many households these days as cold and flu season kicks into high gear. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we are in the midst of a "very active" flu season in much of the country, and that the flu is widespread and intense.
It's no fun to live with someone who is sick. You feel sorry for them and care for them the best you can, but in no way do you want what they have. We spoke to Carolyn Forte, director of the Good Housekeeping Home Appliances, Cleaning Products, and Textiles Lab, about simple things you can do to try to prevent the spread of germs.
Wash your hands. Often. Forte says this is the single most important thing to do to prevent the spread of germs. Soap up between your fingers and don't forget your thumbs, she advises. Scrub for about 20 seconds. You can use any soap, but she prefers a liquid pump bottle. "You don't have that goopy bar in a soap dish. You can even touch the pump with your elbow to get the soap out." Or she is a fan of touch-free automatic liquid-soap dispensers, such as Simplehuman Sensor Pump or Lysol No-Touch.
Isolate toothbrushes. Once a household member has a cold, it's best to separate their toothbrush from the rest of the pack to avoid germ contamination. After the person gets well, replace the toothbrush or toothbrush head with a new one.
Launder bedding frequently. The best thing to do if someone is sick is to put them in a separate room to sleep, preventing the spread of germs as well as preserving your precious sleep. If this isn't possible and you must share the same bed, wash your sheets frequently in hot water. It even helps to wash just the pillowcases every few days, Forte says. Bath towels should be washed every day or two.
Consider disposables. Paper towels and paper cups can be your friends when germs are an issue. Give the sick person a roll of paper towels to use when washing hands in the bathroom, instead of using a communal towel. There is usually a lot of water-drinking and pill-taking, so instead of having to wash glasses in hot water, switch to paper for the duration of the illness. If you are washing the sick individual's plates or flatware in your dishwasher, select a sanitizing cycle if that is an option on your model, as it bumps up the temperature of the final rinse.
Clean your humidifier. Humidifiers help soothe sinuses and nasal passages, especially when you have coughing and chest congestion. They're also great for your furniture and wood floors. But if you are using your humidifier on a daily basis to make your patient feel better, once a day you should empty the tank and then wipe it down until it's dry. Do a thorough cleaning of it at least weekly, following the directions provided for your particular model. "You don't want germs breeding in there and spewing out into the room," Forte says.
Keep the remotes wiped off. Flu sufferers are likely to spend long hours on the couch sniffling and feeling sorry for themselves, clicking through Netflix and HBO offerings. So all those remotes will be covered in germs. Keep a container of antibacterial wipes around so you can clean the remotes on a daily basis; clean your light switches and doorknobs with them, too. Put a small wastebasket in the TV room with a plastic liner for all the wet tissues and used wipes, and empty it once or twice a day.