How to Keep Germs at Bay During Flu Season

This article is part of a video series with Dr. Changa Kurukularatne, a specialist in infectious diseases and internal medicine; he is a father of four. Dr. Changa has worked in multiple countries from the U.S. to New Zealand and Singapore.

Dr. Linnea: Speaking about keeping germs at bay, what would you recommend during flu season to try to reduce the possibility of getting it or at least getting it in a mild form?

Dr. Changa: I think one of the most important considerations is not just washing our hands but how we wash our hands because many, many germs including germs that cause influenza or the flu and most of the other respiratory viruses and the interim viruses are passed from contact. So, how we touch and, you know, what do we touch, the doorknobs, the keyboards, the telephones. So, since we have to interact with our environment, the final pathway between the environment and our body usually is our hands.

And if you go the CDC and the WHO websites, you will find the steps that it requires for proper hand hygiene. So, there are certain techniques that we all us in a sequence. And children are not too young to learn this. A lot of schools actually teach this style, which is very encouraging, is the proper steps of washing hands, and sometimes there’s a song that’s associated with it. But whichever technique that you use, if it’s one thing you could do is good hand hygiene.

And I’ll just add on to that. There’s a misconception that you need antibacterial hand soaps, that’s not the case. Antibacterial hand soaps, just like the antibiotics that you take, have potentially bad consequences. It can really change the various proportions of populations of bacteria that live on your skin. Again, our goal is not to be germ-free because we are germ. So, these hands soaps can actually work against you by selecting out the very resistant strands of bacteria and have them become a larger part of your microbiome population. What you do need is any soap, preferably non-antibacterial soap, just any soap, but good technique. So, hand hygiene is something very, very important.

The issue of vaccines always come up, and there are in any society that you will go to, you will find two groups of people, one group would have a very low threshold to get the recommended vaccines, the other group might adopt a “wait and see” or a no vaccine policy, and that’s something that is out there whether we like it or not. And so, I think whether or not you should get the flu vaccine, again, I encourage all families, all parents to have an open discussion with their healthcare provider and have a health plan that includes your decisions about the vaccines.

But I would start with hand hygiene, and have a conversation about vaccines with your doctor. And if your child or yourself is sick with the flu, you can get surgical masks, it’s very inexpensive. You just wear a mask if you’re coughing all the time. And if you happen to cough or sneeze, don’t cough or sneeze into your hands, then you can spread the germs everywhere, just the elbow, cough and sneeze into your elbow, that’s probably the best.

And I tell my kids all the time, “Catch a cough, catch it,” and they know what I mean, and they do that instead of doing this. So, minimizing the spread of germs, good hand hygiene, and have an individualized healthcare plan with your own provider based on your values, based on your beliefs, and based on what your provider recommends.

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Written by Dr. Linnea Passaler

A surgeon and mom of a three, all currently under the age of five, Dr. Linnea is MamaDoctor's founder. She believes healthy virtual spaces where people can share their honest concerns and get help from knowledgeable, trustworthy sources, change lives for the better. She is an advocate for maternal mental health and wellbeing.