How to flu-proof your home this winter
Winter is the start of the flu season, but this year, Australians are also dealing with the Coronavirus threat. The last thing we need this winter is a flu outbreak on top of the current global health crisis.
Fortunately, there are simple things we can do to keep the flu at bay. Many of these tactics are familiar to us because we have been practising them since lockdown. Our team of cleaning experts have added some valuable tips to make them flu-proof.
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Five things you can do to keep the flu away this winter
1. Get a flu shot.
Australians are strongly advised to get their flu shots this year. The flu vaccine cannot prevent COVID-19, but it can reduce the severity of seasonal influenza, which can weaken your immune system, thereby making you more susceptible to other illnesses.
According to healthdirect.gov.au, flu vaccination not only protects you from the flu, but it also protects the people in your household who cannot have a flu shot (for example, babies).
Most people develop immunity two to three weeks after they are vaccinated so if you have not booked a flu shot, now is the time to get on to it. Your GP or local chemist can administer a flu jab.
2. Disinfect your home.
Routinely cleaning and disinfecting the home can keep it safe and flu-free, especially if you have someone in your household who is unwell.
Start by identifying all the high-touch points – the hard surfaces that are regularly touched. In the home, these surfaces include refrigerators, microwave, coffee machine, door handles, light switches, the toilet, toys, TV remote control, computer keyboard and mobile phones.
All these surfaces are prime sources for contamination and need regular disinfecting. Flu viruses can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours, so make it a daily habit to wipe and disinfect these surfaces.
Clean the surfaces with soap and water first before disinfecting. Cleaning removes surface dirt and grime. Disinfecting reduces the spread of the virus.
What kills the flu virus?
Heat above 75°C can kill the flu virus. So can everyday household cleaning products like bleach, hydrogen peroxide, detergent (soap), iodophors (or iodine-based antiseptics) and alcohol (70% or higher). The anti-bacterial cleaner or wipes in the cupboard that ‘kill 99% of bacteria and viruses’ also work.
Bleach must be diluted before use on surfaces. To make a cleaning solution mix a quarter-cup of bleach with four litres of water. Store-bought sprays can be applied directly onto surfaces but make sure you read the instructions first.
Keep a pair of gloves for disinfecting and don’t use them for any other purpose. If you are using microfibre cloths, wash these in hot water after use. Do not use detergent on microfibre. Avoid using sponges for cleaning and disinfecting because they trap germs and bacteria.
How do I disinfect the home without bleach?
Don’t like using bleach for cleaning? Try our DIY homemade disinfectant instead.
Use a generic 3% hydrogen peroxide that you can find in a pharmacy. If you only find a 6% product, you can dilute it with equal parts of water. Store the remainder in a dark brown bottle to prevent it from breaking down into water (thereby rendering it ineffective).
To use, put the hydrogen peroxide into a spray bottle. After you have cleaned the surface, spray the hydrogen peroxide on the surface and leave it to dry naturally. Too easy, right?
What’s the safest way to disinfect toys?
We get this question all the time. How do I safely disinfect toys at home? Wipe with a clean and slightly damp cloth. Look out for sticky spots like buttons and crevices. To disinfect, use an alcohol wipe. (NOTE: This method can also work for stickiness on in your keyboard, iPad or mobile phone.)
Colourfast, plain, stuffed toys and fabric books can be washed in your washing machine. Solid plastic toys like animal figurines, teething rings and Duplo blocks can be cleaned on the top drawer of your dishwasher. Rest larger toys on the top rack, put smaller pieces into a mesh bag, select the normal cycle, press ‘Start’ and you’re good to go.
3. Prevent cross-contamination.
To minimise cross-contamination in the bathroom don’t share towels and face cloths and keep toothbrushes uncovered. It is also important to isolate the toothbrush of sick individuals.
To prevent cross-contamination in the patient’s bedroom, put a box of tissues and a rubbish bin near their bed so they can reach them easily. Take their bin directly to your outside wheelie bin when emptying. After each use, disinfect their bin with the DIY disinfecting tips above.
Dust can irritate coughs and congestion, so dust and vacuum their bedroom regularly. Don’t forget the corners and under the bed. Move stale air out of the room by opening the windows. A nebulising diffuser can help with clearing chest congestion. Try eucalyptus, tea tree oil or menthol for the best results.
When doing the laundry, be careful not to contaminate yourself. Don’t touch dirty clothing as you take it to the laundry. Use a laundry basket or hamper instead and tip clothes into the wash. Wash the clothes of the sick person separately in a warm or hot cycle. The warm environment of your washing machine is a harbinger for germs so take some time to rinse the machine in an empty cycle of hot water and some store-bought laundry disinfectant.
4. Practise good hygiene habits.
We know good hygiene like washing your hands and covering your face (when you cough or sneeze) can help prevent the spread of viruses in the home. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Lather well and rinse thoroughly. You can also use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser consisting of at least 70% ethanol. Don’t forget to wash or disinfect your hands after you have touched or tended to a sick person.
Make it a habit to cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze. Use a piece of tissue or sneeze/cough into the elbow of your sleeves. Studies have shown that covering your face can reduce the spread of droplets by 75%. If you have a sick child or member of your household at home, ask them to wear a face mask if they are in the presence of others. Practising safe distancing is also a good idea.
5. Isolate the sick person.
Not another quarantine! Unfortunately, this is an essential step to keep the flu from spreading. If your kid or family member is sick, he/she should stay away from school, work and public spaces. Keep them at home with lots of fluids and plenty of rest. Treat fever and cough with over the counter medications. If you are concerned about their symptoms, don’t ask Doctor Google for advice. Call your GP instead as they now offer over the phone consultations.
Limit their contact with other members of the family who are not sick. You may have to make some adjustments to sleeping arrangements if they are sharing a room with a sibling.
Symptoms of the flu last about a week. The more precautions you take during this time, the less likely the flu will spread to the rest of the family and others in the community.
Know the flu symptoms
Common symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever or feeling feverish (chills)
- Sore throat
- Persistent cough
- Body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhoea (some people suffer from this)
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent the flu. Frequent cleaning and good hygiene can also keep the flu away. If you have someone at home who is sick, quarantine and safe distancing will go a long way in minimising the spread. Stay safe and healthy, everyone!