Keeping the Flu Out of Your Home is in Your Hands

By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Laina Krisik

After years of hearing "Don't forget to wash your hands," before every meal, the act of handwashing has nearly become a Pavlovian response when cooking aromas fill the kitchen. Unlike the many bad habits that are hard to break, handwashing is one that could help prevent the flu and other infections, particularly in young children.

Without proper handwashing the spread of germs follows a chain reaction. First, the germs travel from the hands to the eyes nose or mouth. From there, they spread to other people or to surfaces such as doorknobs. This then paves the course of hand-to-hand contact infectious diseases.

This contact could result in a trip to a doctor who may want to give your child a totally unneccessary flu vaccine, an option you must completely avoid. Most of the injectable influenza vaccines will contain 25mg of mercury per .5ml dose. (Although there are influenza vaccines with little or no mercury in them, they will be in short supply come this flu season.)

The ABCs of Children, Handwashing and Daycare

Young children are most prone to passing germs because they tend to put their hands in or near their mouths and have frequent contact with other children. Teaching good hygiene habits are particularly important to children attending daycare, because they stand at a greater risk of contracting gastrointestinal diseases and bringing them home to other family members or people in the community.

Innocent acts of sharing toys and hugging other classmates can turn daycares into sophisticated germ factories.

One study had kids wash their hands when they arrived to school, before lunch, after lunch, at recess time and finally before leaving to go home. After a month of consistent handwashing, the study showed the kids had 24 percent fewer days off school from colds and the flu. And an astounding 51 percent fewer sick days due to gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Most experts agree that handwashing is the single most important thing kids could do to prevent infections from spreading in day-care settings.

Your Best Defense Against the Flu -- Clean Hands

With the flu season now upon us, parents are looking at all of their options to protect their kids from getting the flu. Beating it takes a little common sense and proper hand-washing habits. Instead of putting your child's health at risk by taking them in for a flu shot or giving them a pill, try following these practical guidelines:

  • Have your child wash their hands after touching anything the public has touched. Some of these common germ areas include telephones, doorknobs and handrails.

  • Try to make sure your child avoids rubbing their eyes or nose with dirty hands. This is one of the many routes that viruses take to find their way into our bodies.

  • If your child comes in contact with someone with the flu, be sure they keep a good distance from him or her, preferably 5 feet.

  • Instill the habit of washing your hands before you eat into your child. This is an especially effective tactic when your child is at school. Depending on the janitor to have gotten all of the germs off the lunchroom table is not a good idea, as most are microscopic and can't be seen by the human eye.

Teaching Your Kids Good Handwashing Habits

The best way to get your child to adopt good handwashing habits is through example. This could be accomplished by washing your hands with your children. Another idea is leaving handwashing reminders around the house making sure to place them at eye level.

Children should be encouraged to lather up the suds before meals, playing outdoors, cuddling with household pets, after using the bathroom and after blowing their nose or sneezing.

The best hand-wasing technique involves three steps:

  • Use warm water
  • Work up a good lather all the way up to the wrists for at least 10 or 15 seconds
  • Don't forget to get all surfaces including the backs of the hands, wrists, between the fingers and an area often overlooked, the fingernails

By absorbing these hand-washing tips and information parents can help reduce the risk of common infections in their children such as colds and the flu to more serious infections such as meningitis.

Why Antibacterial Soaps Should be Avoided

Proper hygiene practices as simple as handwashing are critical to achieving and maintaining optimal health. One word of caution is avoid using antibacterial soaps. These soaps are completely unnecessary and could easily cause more harm than good. The antibacterial compounds found in most of these soaps sold in the United States are likely contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

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