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11 Ways to Avoid Getting the Flu

Updated on October 4, 2016
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy has written about health and wellness for more than five years. She is the former manager of two large clinics in Austin, Texas.

How to Fight the Flu This Season

Flu symptoms include a high fever and extreme body aches.
Flu symptoms include a high fever and extreme body aches.
Watch for germs in doctors' offices!
Watch for germs in doctors' offices!

Flu Season is Here!

Flu and Fall equals cold weather and sick kids, right? You don't have to be one of the victims, though. Here are tips to help protect you and your family (especially your children).

If your child is coming home with sniffles (or worse), it’s not always the fault of the kid with the runny nose who sits next to him. Kids are exposed to more germs than you realize. Here are a few places they breed, and a few tips on keeping your child healthier this winter.

Be Careful at the Doctor's Office!

Yes, really. The place you go to get well will also make you sick. The reason? Look at all the sick children in an average pediatrician’s office. Although it might sound neurotic, use hand sanitizer liberally while you visit a doctor’s office and when you leave.

As the former clinic administrator of two large clinics, I learned quickly to beware of door handles and drinking fountains. Think about it – every person entering the office has to touch the door handle. At the end of an average four-hour clinic session, dozens of people with flu, colds and perhaps other communicable diseases have gone in and out of the door and turned the knob (or lever). No, you don’t have to wear gloves. But take along hand sanitizer for use after you or your child touch surfaces that may have been handled by sick people.

Some clinics now have sanitizer dispensers on counters and in treatment rooms - take advantage of them and use a squirt or two. Teach your child how to rub her hands together briskly until the sanitizer is no longer wet.

Where Do Germs Live?

Worst Places to Catch Germs | Where Flu Germs Are Spread

Places Where Germs Hang Out

There are several culprits that aid, abet and harbor evil germs that can make your kids sick. When you first examine the list of likely suspects, it might seem a bit like overkill, or OCD even, to worry about so many things your child might touch. Look at it this way - would you let your child eat from someone else's plate, drink from a stranger's cup, or touch a lab dish full of germs? Here are some places germs love to breed:

Bathroom Fixtures

Bathroom faucet knobs and door handles are even worse than doorknobs – they can be contaminated by germs from the toilet area as well as any germs from diseases. Don’t freak out; just make certain to wash your hands well and use sanitizer afterward. Train your child to do the same.

Drinking Fountains

Have you ever watched small children drink from a fountain? They’re too little to bend down and drink, so they stand on tiptoes and put their mouths over the valve that shoots up the stream of water. There’s not a lot you can do about the fountains at school, but you can definitely avoid drinking fountains in public places when colds and flu are prevalent. Take along bottled water, and as with the doctor’s office, use sanitizer whenever you need to. Check to see if your child’s school allows personal water bottles, and if it’s possible, clean the bottle each night & send him or her with water from home. If they empty the bottle, instruct them to refill it rather than drinking from the fountain. They’re less likely to get germs that way than by putting their mouths near the fountain’s water valve.

How Germs Spread at School

Where to catch flu | germs at school.
Where to catch flu | germs at school.

Ways Your Child Will Catch Flu | Colds at School

Playground Equipment

How often do they clean the places kids touch on playgrounds? Does never sound about right? Train your child to wash his hands thoroughly after recess, and explain why that’s important. Send along a small, refillable bottle of sanitizer in his backpack or lunch kit, and suggest he use it after bathroom visits and after the playground.

Classroom Equipment

Probably the main items your child touches in class are in his or her own work area. There may be community items (such as toys for younger children), though. Ask the teacher whether these items are ever cleaned, and suggest that children wash their hands after class sessions where they handle these things.

Protect Your Child From Germs in Public Places

At Church

Church bathrooms and drinking fountains get a lot of abuse, too, even if everyone is dressed in their Sunday Finest and on their best behavior. Use common sense, and take precautions if you realize germs are around. Frequent hand washing is the best way to ward off an uninvited flu bug or other problem. And, of course, hand sanitizer helps.

With Friends

You’re not going to keep your kids locked in a tower, and nobody expects you to anyway. But pay attention to illnesses your child’s friends or their siblings might have. If someone is coming down with a bug, suggest they play at a later date. A creative idea might be to set up a Skype play-date if getting together in person isn’t wise for any reason. When they do have play-dates, make certain they wash their hands well afterward. You can even suggest they change clothes when they get home, especially if the friend has pets or they’ve been playing hard (think dirt, sweat, and maybe a runny nose if it’s cold outside).

Wash Winter Coats and Gloves to Kill Germs

Wash winter outerwear to get rid of germs | flu virus.
Wash winter outerwear to get rid of germs | flu virus.
Runny noses carry germs and mittens touch those noses.
Runny noses carry germs and mittens touch those noses.
Change toothbrushes to get rid of germs.
Change toothbrushes to get rid of germs.

Germs Around the House

In Your Car

Do you ever wipe off the door handles and steering wheel of your car? Give them a swipe now and then with disinfectant wipes, and wipe down any surfaces the kids touch on a regular basis.

Germs on Coats and Gloves

We tend to buy coats and gloves, use them all season without thinking about it, then put them in the closet, down in the basement, or in a box. If possible, wash gloves regularly, especially if they’ve been used to wipe a runny nose now and then. Buy washable coats and launder them every few weeks (they should survive just fine – fluff out the down or quilting and hang them up to dry). This will cut down on the germs that can hang out on knitted cuffs and sleeves, or around the collar.

FIght Germs in the Bedroom

If your child does get sick (or should we say when she gets sick – after all, it’s The Season for colds), be sure to change their bedding more often than usual. This especially goes for pillowcases, which can promote re-infection through the mouth and nose.

Toothbrushes - a Mecca for Germs!

Change your child’s toothbrush regularly during cold season, and change it whenever there’s a cold in the house. New toothbrushes are a great way to prevent re-infection. Otherwise, you can have a vicious cycle of ‘the cold that wouldn’t go away’ simply because the same germs have been reintroduced every time your child brushes.

As I mentioned, these tips are not meant to turn your family into an enclave of recluses, or to turn Mom into a neurotic with phobias about touching things. These are just some common places your kids will encounter germs, and some tips for mitigating the problems. If you pay attention to the contact points that can expose your child to germs, you can more easily ward off colds, flu and other contagious illnesses. All it takes is a sharp eye and a bit of diligence.


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