One of those mass e-mails forwarded by an acquaintance to me and 30 or so others arrived in the mailbox recently, and it caught my attention for more than the usual 2 seconds. Its slug line promised eight tips for avoiding colds and flu this season, and — quite frankly — I would like to avoid colds and flu this season.
Some of the tips were predictable. Wash your hands often. Don’t rub your eyes and mouth with your hands. Ladies and gentlemen, we should have learned those types of things in nursery school.
Washing hands? Do we really have time for that? Well, do we really have time to battle a cold or flu? The next time you’re at a busy location, like an airport or restaurant, visit the restroom and spend a minute — 60 second or so — washing your hands. That’s much longer than needed, but you need to do something other than stare while you’re observing people’s habits. You’ll be shocked by how many people leave the facilities after taking care of their needs without stopping at the sink.
Other tips included in the e-mail were a little unexpected. One was to avoid touching the first floor button on an elevator, because it carries the most germs. Give it a stab with your elbow, or wait for someone else to step forward and ask for floors. Here’s another option: perhaps it really is healthier to take the stairs.
Another was to avoid using the pens lying around on the counters of grocery stores, retailers and other places where you might be asked to sign a credit card receipt. Always carry your own pen. Of course, at the stores where your signature is needed on a small screen with a special stylus, you’re out of luck. Perhaps you should pay cash. Oops, you’ll find lots of germs on currency, too.
The tips also reminded us that telephones can spread germs when shared, and that computer keyboards are one of the nastiest places in your office.
I’ve heard that the host of a popular prime-time game show religiously avoids shaking hands, preferring instead to touch closed fists as a welcome. Stories have also circulated about a well-known mogul with a series of reality shows and a signature comb-over saying he avoids handshakes whenever possible, although it can’t be done all the time.
We can’t always avoid shaking hands — that can be very awkward in many situations. We can’t always skip the elevator. And we have to sign the credit card receipt somehow. But the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a concise way to stop the spread of germs and home, work and school: take care to cover your mouth and nose, clean your hands often and remind your children to practice healthy habits, too.
If you’re already suffering, remember to cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze. When you wash your hands — frequently, using with soap and warm water — lather up for 15 to 20 seconds. That’s about the same time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, and doing so silently is fine. After all, every day is somebody’s birthday, and if you’re healthier, you might have people singing the song to you for years to come.
Alcohol-based hand wipes and gels are also useful, and they don’t need water to work. But some experts recommend not using antibacterial soap, because standard soap will be the job, and overuse of antibacterial compounds could lead to the development of “super bugs.” Perhaps that is a tip that should be referred to the research department for confirmation.
If all this sounds extreme, remember that the varieties and strength of germs and bacteria are advancing as quickly as our ability to medicate them. The best treatment is to avoid getting sick.
Gene Deason is managing editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.