Prevent and Kill Germs
There are several ways to limit the spread of germs. Most important, says Thomas Sandora, MD, staff physician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children's Hospital Boston, is to wash your hands when you walk in the door. He advises scrubbing for at least 15 seconds, almost as long as it takes to sing one verse of "Old MacDonald." It's especially important to wash up at key times during the day when you have the best chance of reducing infection: after using the bathroom, after shaking hands with people who might be ill, before eating, and after wiping your child's nose or changing a diaper.
Using an alcohol-based sanitizing gel is sometimes a better way to rid yourself of harmful bugs. "Studies show that using an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands has an advantage over soap and water when it comes to removing rotavirus," explains Dr. Sandora. "The gels are better because the alcohol in them kills the organism right on your hand." Because rotavirus -- the most common cause of severe, dehydrating diarrhea among kids -- is transmitted through fecal-oral contact, keep an alcohol-based gel handy to use in addition to washing your hands after diaper changes.
Experts have known for some time that these gels reduce the spread of illnesses in hospitals and other settings, but a new study led by Dr. Sandora shows that they also may keep you healthier at home. Researchers studied 292 families with 382 preschoolers enrolled at childcare centers, and those families that used the gels at home had a 59 percent less chance of developing a gastrointestinal illnesses compared with families that didn't use them.
Another big advance in germ removal has been disinfecting wipes, which are good for cleaning much more than the handle on a shopping cart. The wipes are more convenient, albeit more expensive, than using a spray disinfectant and a paper towel. Whatever your preference, "you want either a cleaning product that contains bleach or a spray or a wipe with the word 'disinfectant' on it," says Gerba. "These products will kill both viruses and bacteria, but antibacterial products kill only bacteria."