Tis the season? There is an annual flu season (approximately October through May) for which Health officials suggest that everyone receive a flu vaccination. Germs, however, including those that cause the common cold are prevalent all year long and can cause concern for people with compromised immune systems or chronic health conditions. There are over 200 viruses that can cause the common cold – that’s a lot of germs. Staying healthy and germ-free is a timeless and ongoing challenge that we must constantly tackle.
Germs are everywhere. They exist in the air, on handrails, doorknobs, pens, desks, chairs, and virtually any other touchable surface. Though many people are most worried about the germs that are inhaled, most germs are spread through touching. Sharing cell phones, ipod/mp3 players and headphones (common among teens) can also spread germs.
Those of us that participate in group athletic activities (like martial arts) should be particularly cautious because you never know who will show up sick to class. There is often personal contact between students during training, so what do we do to protect ourselves and stay as healthy as possible in and out of class? Here are 5 quick tips to encourage healthy habits.
1. Get immunized: flu vaccine (annually), pneumonia vaccine (lasts five years). These will not prevent you from contracting the flu but it can protect you a lot. In the event you get the flu, the vaccine will minimize its severity (always a helpful thing)
2. If you are sick, stay home. Going to martial arts or aerobics class with a cold, flu, or other communicable infection or sickness is never a good idea. Even if you feel better, if you have a residual cough that is severe, stay home. If you have mucous or other discharge that can be transferred onto another person, stay home. A runny nose may seem a minor symptom, but it can be dangerous to others.
3. Cover your mouth. In the event that you are ill and around other people, be prepared to cover your mouth when you cough. Coughing into the air can quickly spread germs that others can inhale. Always try to cough into a tissue and throw it out immediately after use. If you don’t have a tissue handy, don’t use your bare hand – cough into your sleeve instead. The clothing will hold germs.
4. Keep your hands away from your face. Touching infected surfaces can transfer germs from elsewhere to you. When you then touch your face, nose, or mouth you transfer those germs into your body. Be careful when you are out and about and keep your hands away from your face to keep yourself safe from extra germs.
5. Wash your hands with soap and water. This is the most important tip of all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The best protection you can offer yourself all year is to keep your hands clean. Washing with soap and water is the most effective method of germ avoidance. If soap and water is not available, use antibacterial liquid that contains 50% or more alcohol.
Remember, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". No one can stay completely germ-free, but the more we try, the healthier we stay.