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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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  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Green Art - I'm so glad you liked the hub! Hope you are able to dodge the germs this season - stay safe!

  • Green Art profile image

    Green Art 4 years ago

    I wasn't planning on getting a flu shot as I've never gotten one before, but decided to get one this morning and glad I did. You did a great job on this hub! I've always been good about hand washing, but have recently added hand sanitizers to my purse, car, kitchen sink area and bathrooms. I need to be more diligent about wiping off door knobs and light switches in my own home too.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Melovy - I hope you're recovering by now! I've been worried about you - and you are so right that stress is a factor in being vulnerable to flu, colds, just about anything that comes along. Even good stress can do that, such as reaching a goal, getting married, taking a trip, etc. Stay warm, and keep drinking that herbal tea!

  • Melovy profile image

    Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

    Well Marcy, I probably should have read this last week before I came down with a stinking cold or flu.

    You tips are good, and I need you to come round to our house and convince my 13-yr-old why she should wash her hands before eating, especially at school, where "nobody else does." :-)

    I also think that how we feel about things makes a huge difference: if we get stressed out our immune system struggles, so be vigilant but not so that it creates fear and anxiety. (And if we notice those feelings, then allow them and let them go. Our bodies will feel the relief that brings and respond.)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Me, too, Austinstar - I try to get it as early in the season as possible, because I often get issues around Thanksgiving (some sort of allergy kicks in, I think - but it's too early for Cedar Fever). Using sanitary wipes and gel is super helpful - you never know what you touch just going in and out of stores, etc.

  • Austinstar profile image

    Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    I'm like first in line for the flu shot! I hate having a cold or flu.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, Austinstar - we do need to get together, soon! And yes, I do the herbal tea and soup shifts for my buddies who get sick. Hope you escape this stuff that's going around, though!

  • Austinstar profile image

    Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

    Hi Marcy - If I get sick I'll remember your offer to come over and help clean and make me some soup and herbal tea :-) On second thought, you don't have to wait until I get sick, just come on over!

    Great hub, well presented and truly helpful tips. Voted up!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Hi, BarberGirl - Oh wow - I so relate to how you feel after being sick that long! I'm so sorry (wish I lived close enough to come over and help clean & make you some soup & herbal tea!). I'm sure you've looked at your air filters? I realized after a long bout of chest stuff that my air filters were a big part of the problem. I'm not sure if you have that sort of sick-stuff, so maybe that's not applicable.

    Yes, it's easy to get OCD about it, but a little of that 'obsession' does help a bit! Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you feel better soon!

  • barbergirl28 profile image

    Stacy Harris 5 years ago from Hemet, Ca

    After reading this... I think I want to get a little OCD around my house (although I will admit when I do clean, wiping handles and odd things most people don't think of is something I actually do) but I have been sick for the better part of almost 3 months and frankly, my cleaning has been slacking because of it. It makes me want to get up and start sanitizing everything!! Very informative hub and well done!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thank you, thumbi7 - II hope some of this is helpful in keeping your loved ones healthy this season!

  • thumbi7 profile image

    JR Krishna 5 years ago from India

    Wonderful hub! All those places you have mentioned carry a lot of germs, not only of flu but of many other diseases.

    Thanks for SHARING:)

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, Veronica - I hope you're able to scare away those germs!

  • VeronicaFarkas profile image

    Veronica Roberts 5 years ago from Ohio, USA

    Great tips! We're fighting off colds in our house right now. Vitamins, OJ & fluids, humidifier, & tons of rest (& washing hands!) - that's our prescription for getting better! =] I agree with you about the many places that germs love to spread, that parents don't necessarily think of - like the doctors office.

    Voted up & useful!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I love the Vaseline tip, rsusan! Thanks for sharing it here. It would also help cut down that awful flaky skin we get around our nostrils when we have a runny nose.

  • rsusan profile image

    Rika Susan 5 years ago from South Africa

    Great tips, Marcy. Voted up and useful. Another thing we do that seems to be working extremely well, is to put a tiny bit of vaseline (even better if some tea tree oil is mixed in) into our noses in the morning! It blocks the germs right at the point of entry. If you are worried about using vaseline, you can also get a nasal gel that works. Ask your pharmacist.

    We also take our own magazines to the doctor's office for reading.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    I know what you mean. Hard to believe only a few years ago, we never heard of the stuff!

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Yes, you're right. And as much as I'm loathe to admit it, I carry a small bottle of disinfecting gel for my hands, for those rare occasions when I'm unable to wash my hands after touching surfaces like doorknobs, subway railings, etc.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for reading and commenting, livelonger. I was casual about drinking fountains for years (and I still use them in some places). But after working in the clinic, I am wary. This was a busy indigent care clinic with hundreds of patients each day, and the kids were often very sick. I tried to get our housekeeping staff to keep the fountains clean, but it was a losing battle.

    I totally agree about plastic bottles and landfills (I have written a Green column for years), but there are certain places where taking a bottle of water along now makes sense. Bus stations, any healthcare facility, outdoor parks, etc.

  • livelonger profile image

    Jason Menayan 5 years ago from San Francisco

    Great advice, although I have mixed feelings about drinking fountains. I think they're becoming passe, as we get more and more squeamish about public things, and in turn, we're polluting the planet with quadrillions of plastic water bottles.

    I think the soundest advice is washing your hands frequently, one I wish I had followed more closely before I got this beast of a cold I'm battling right now!

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
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    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks, MP50. I agree with you that a degree of germs is important. Somewhere, we need to figure out a good balance between too many and not enough of those little guys.

  • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image
    Author

    Marcy Goodfleisch 5 years ago from Planet Earth

    Thanks for dropping by and commenting, Sparkea! I take my hand sanitizer everywhere, too. It's amazing how that's become a staple in our purses, isn't it?

  • profile image

    MP50 5 years ago

    Great Hub on how to help keep your kids healthy in the flu and cold season.

    Regular hand washing and hand sanitizing does help, all of the above work as well.

    I do educate my daughter on these tips, now when I pick her up from daycare she washes her hands and face before we leave.

    I do think children should catch some germs, as this builds their immune system.

    Just seems there are many more germs around these days?Voted up useful and interesting, thanks for sharing.

  • profile image

    Sparklea 5 years ago

    Great tips! I think the magic word is "sanitizer" and I totally agree. My husband puts a bunch of them in my Christmas stocking (yes I still have a stocking). LOVE the skype idea too! I agree with everything you said. If we could SEE the germs, we probably would be afraid to get up in the morning! Great hub and thank you :) Blessings Sparklea

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