Strategies for keeping germs at bay during the cold and flu season
Experts agree that frequent hand washing is one of the first lines of defense against colds and flu.
But no matter how many times you wash your hands, there are always some sneaky little germs lurking around to hitch a ride on your skin. They loiter on shopping cart handles, linger on light switches, lurk about the phone and even hang around on the remote controls.
The length of time that cold or flu germs can survive outside the body on these or other surfaces varies greatly. But the suspected range is from a few seconds to 48 hours – depending on the specific virus and the type of surface. Flu viruses tend to live longer on surfaces than cold viruses do. And it’s suspected that cold and flu viruses live longer on nonporous surfaces, such as plastic, metal or wood, than they do on porous surfaces, such as fabrics, skin or paper.
When killing surface germs is your goal, look for products that contain a disinfectant. Some of the more frequently used active ingredients are sodium hypochlorite, ethanol, pine oil, hydrogen peroxide, citric acid and quats (quaternary ammonium compounds).
Products that say “Disinfectant” on the label are required to meet government specifications. To be sure the product has met all government requirements for effectiveness, look for an EPA Registration Number on the label. You must follow the product label instructions exactly for the disinfectant to be effective. Your choices include:
- Chlorine bleach. It disinfects when mixed and used properly. Read the label for instructions.
- Disinfectant cleaners. These dual purpose products contain ingredients that help remove soil as well as kill germs.
- Disinfectants. These products are designed to be effective against the germs indicated on their labels. Surfaces should be clean prior to disinfecting