Nothing like sharing your “bugs” amongst your friends and family right? Not really! The home is always prime territory for sharing disease. But the resurgence of H1N1 (swine flu) should make you reexamine just how viruses spread, as well as what you can do about it. The H1N1 flu virus, like the seasonal influenza virus and like most other cold viruses, travels by three major routes:
- Close-contact respiratory droplets
- The surface of inanimate objects
- Hand-to-face transfer.
Close-contact respiratory droplets
I am sure you have seen one of those high-speed photographs of a person coughing or sneezing, emitting a spray of moisture resembling the Milky Way. GROSS! A percentage of those droplets remain in the air long enough to find their way to the nasal passages of anyone within three to six feet of the sneezer. The percentage varies with temperature and humidity: Peter Palese of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York says that close-contact studies using guinea pigs — which are susceptible to infection from human flu viruses — found that the flu virus was transmitted almost 100 percent of the time in situations where the temperature was below 41 degrees and the relative humidity was below 50 percent. Sounds like winter no?
Check out the very cool video called “Catch It, Bin It, Kill It,” on our website… It shows a young man who sneezes into a chrome elevator..quite visual. 😉 http://www.ems-solutionsinc.com/handouts_videos.html
Mitigation Strategy? – Cough and Hand Hygiene
That’s a good reason to always sneeze and cough into our tissues, elbows or shoulders. That way you catch the droplets AND don’t contaminate your hands. And of course, hand washing remains our main line of defense (with soap and water or hand sanitizer).
The surface of inanimate objects
Those nasty droplets can also land on shared surfaces such as a desks, kitchen counters, dining table, phones or computer keyboard. How long the virus remains infectious depends on several circumstances however viruses can last up to 24 hours on hard surfaces.
Mitigation Strategy? – Surface Cleaning
It is all pretty much common sense. Wipe down surfaces with a solution of bleach and water (one part bleach to one part water), a disinfectant wipe or with an alcohol swab. Clean a commonly used family phone or keyboard with a disinfectant wipe before using. Don’t use drinking glasses or cutlery that someone else has used. Wipe down high touch surfaces in the home like door knobs, refrigerator handles, drawer pulls or stove handles.
Hand to face transfer – Self Contamination – touching your hands to your face
One of the most common ways to spread viral infections is touching the eyes, nose and mouth with your contaminated hands. Most of us frequently touch our faces: We put things in our mouths, rub our eyes or noses, lick a finger to turn a page, adjust our glasses. Our hands are key to transmission of viruses and bacteria.
Mitigation Strategy? Stop touching your face! Right Now!!! I mean it!
What can we do about it? First of all, keep your hands really, really clean ideally with frequent hand washing with plain old soap and water. If you can’t wash your hands then use sanitizer. I know it sounds so simple and how could it possibly work – but there is strong evidence that it does: In one Detroit study, schoolchildren who washed their hands four times a day had 21 percent fewer sick days due to respiratory illness than did students in general, and 57 percent fewer days lost due to upset stomachs.
Someone Sick at Home? Take Special Precautions
Use a common surgical or dust mask, they are slightly less protective, but offer some clinical benefit. In a 2009 study involving sick schoolchildren in Australia, the use of soft masks reduced the risk of acquiring infection by 60 to 80 percent. Given that the soft mask does not screen all the viral droplets, some of the protection from the masks may be from preventing hand-to-face contact.
Isolation – Family Social Distancing
“Social distancing” is something you can do at home to minimize spread. What does that mean? Simply put, place some distance (ideally 3 – 6 feet) between you and the sick person. Don’t bring your sick kids into bed with you. Hold off on hugs. Don’t share drinks. If the sick folks normally sleep in a bed with another person, separate them to avoid unnecessary contamination.
Taking precautions reduces, but does not eliminate, the chance of infection. These simple tools might make the difference between everyone betting the flu in your house or not…it is worth a try!