The flu is already spreading like a Malibu wildfire in my Bay Area community with dozens of kids out the first few weeks of school and contaminated parents unable to play nurse.
It’s going to happen, no way of avoiding it all together, but there are some simple steps to build immunity and combat the spreading of germs at home.
Some people opt for the influenza vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says protects against the three main flu strains causing the most illness during the season. This year’s vaccine contains three new virus strains: A/Brisbane/59/2007(H1N1)-like virus, A/Brisbane/10/2007 (H3N2)-like virus and B/Brisbane 60/2008-like antigens.
The government says it is believed the 2009-10 influenza vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses, or it can make your illness milder if you get a related but different influenza virus strain.
For those choosing not to get the shot, most methods of fighting and containing the enemy involve keeping your hands and surroundings clean and lying low when you know you’re not well and can infect others. The good news for the planet is that none of the hygiene practices require harmful chemicals to kill the enemy.
1. Hand Washing
Discovered only 150 years ago, frequent hand washing is the most effective way to keep germs from making you sick and spreading to your pals. According to Every Day Health, it doesn’t matter what kind of soap is used as long as the water is warm and the soap lathers and spreads over the hands sufficiently to trap the germs. Soap and water works best (meaning you don’t have to use a chemical-doused sanitizer that can actually lead to worse viruses). Here are the steps recommended by the CDC:
– Wet your hands with clean water – warm, if available – and apply soap.
– Lather by rubbing hands together; be sure to cover all surfaces.
– Continue rubbing hands together for 15 to 20 seconds – sing “Happy Birthday” twice in your head.
– Thoroughly rinse hands under running water to ensure removal of residual germs.
– Use paper towels or an air dryer to dry hands and then, if possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet.
2. Sponge Duty
Sponges used to wash dishes and wipe down counters harbor massive amounts of bacteria, at times even salmonella. While we are urged to replace them often to keep our kitchens clean, many sponges are made from plastics which means even more petroleum waste in our environment.
According to Living Green, the added environmental danger with many synthetic sponges is that they often contain Triclosan, an antibacterial and antifungal agent banned by Canada in household products this past August. Even though it’s registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as being a pesticide, it is frequently used in many antibacterial soaps, deodorants, toothpastes and cosmetics. The chemical is linked to health problems and harms fragile aquatic ecosystems and waterways.
While replacing sponges regularly is a good hygienic practice, stick to buying ones made from cellulose fiber (cellulose is sourced from plantation forests or recycled). Read the label carefully as some cellulose sponges are impregnated with polyester, a form of plastic. Keep your green cellulose sponge as dry as possible between uses, to avoid bacteria. Sterilize them by soaking for a few minutes in boiled water, or try a dilute bleach/hydrogen peroxide solution.
The U.S. Dept of Agriculture also recommends killing bacteria and mold by microwaving a damp sponge or dishwashing a sponge with a drying cycle (the method my family uses).
3. Stay Home When you are Sick
Take cover when you are sick (just like covering your cough) by keeping away from other students, workers and friends. State health departments urge employees to stay home when they are infected for good reason. It’s the right thing to do for you and your community. Ask a friend or a loved one to make a nice pot of organic chicken soup, crank up the vitamins and heal thyself. Work can added undue stress that undermines a quick recovery. Work can wait.
4. Resist Sharing Personal Items
You don’t share brushes to avoid lice. And you don’t share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items if you want to avoid flu and colds. While sharing is a good gesture, there is a big exception when it comes to hygiene.
5. Love Yourself More
An excellent reference guide by Our Home Remedies follows the non-nonsense Farmer’s Almanac approach of boosting your immune system with rest, healthy foods like fresh leafy veggies and organic fruit, Vitamin C, garlic and thyme, and beneficial teas. We know when we are not loving ourselves because we don’t sleep and become run down, dehydrated and tend to reach for high sugar foods to revive us, rather than what we really need.