According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the commonly accepted timeline of the flu season is from October through May. They base this on the number of cases reported and the number of people that are hospitalized due to the flu or flu-like symptoms.
However, this year, it appears to have started a bit later. The CDC indicates the season began in December, may peak in February, and then slowly disappear.
We know the best way to protect ourselves from the flu is to get a flu shot. The big problem is that many people do not get vaccinated. In the U.S., it appears that only about half of those over the age of six months do so. The Canadian government reports that among some age groups, the situation is even worse. Specifically, for adults 18 to 64, only about one-third get a flu shot. However, this number doubles in the 65+ age bracket.
If so many people in North America fail to get a flu shot, what other options are available?
One is to wear a mask. According to a study by the University of Michigan, when students wore masks and regularly used hand sanitizers, the number of flu victims was reduced by as much as 50 percent. However, most of us do not want to wear masks whenever we step out the door, so our only other option is proper and effective hand hygiene. This means hand washing*.
While hand sanitizers do play a role in reducing or eliminating the number of pathogens on our hands, we must remember that sanitizers do not clean. Pathogens can get embedded in our skin, and the only way to remove them is with handwashing.
Another thing we should know is when to wash our hands. The CDC suggests washing whenever hands are visibly soiled; we could also add – whenever hands are “sticky.” When hands are sticky, it can be easier for pathogens on surfaces to attach to them. Additional CDC suggestions include washing hands:
• Before and after preparing meals
• After using the restroom
• After shaking “a lot” of hands at a meeting or gathering
• After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
• Before and after treating a cut or scrape
• After handling trash or animal waste
• Before and after tending to someone that is sick
We must also remember that when people are ill with the flu, they may cough, sneeze or blow their nose. When they do, there is a very good chance that contaminants will become airborne and land on commonly touched surfaces. We cannot see these pathogens. This is why many facilities now conduct vulnerability assessments and leverage surface imaging technologies. These technologies can pinpoint where these and other pathogens are located on a surface. This allows cleaning professionals to ensure these areas are properly cleaned and sanitized.
*What is proper hand washing?
To effectively remove soils and pathogens from our hands, we should wash them using warm water for at least 20 seconds while “vigorously” rubbing hands together. This loosens embedded contaminants so they can be washed away.