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Virus Outbreak: nCoV-2019

Posted in Health, tips by commorancy on January 25, 2020

virus-1280In recent days, it has been reported that a new coronavirus has emerged from Wuhan city in the Hubei province in China. It is dubbed nCoV-2019. Let’s explore.

Outbreak

The “novel Corona Virus” (nCoV-2019) outbreak began sometime in early December in Wuhan with the WHO being notified on December 31st of a possible new coronavirus strain. It seems the incubation period of this virus is somewhere around 7 and 14 days, after which symptoms begin to manifest. It was first assumed that nCoV-2019 was spread through a seafood market and food items. However, it seems that many in China are now getting the virus without having visited or eaten the suspected foods. The CDC is currently investigating exactly the means of transmission, but it is suspected that this virus has now moved into a person-to-person contact phase. Assuming person-to-person contact, then it is worth following standard winter Cold and Flu virus transmission precautions.

The nCoV-2019 virus is not an influenza or “the flu” type virus. This is an entirely different type of virus, but it does have similar symptoms to a cold virus, including respiratory distress. You can read this CBS news article to understand how it has been determined (so far) that this virus spreads. However, the means of spread should now be considered like most other viruses, including cold and flu, such as through body fluid contact. It may even be able to live on surfaces for a time like other viruses. That means if you touch a surface that has a latent virus on it and you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you could become infected. It may also be transmitted through airborne contact by a sneeze or a cough.

Cold and Flu Prevention

In 2009, I wrote an article regarding flu prevention during winter months. I updated this article in 2018 to discuss getting the flu vaccine (which that vaccine won’t apply to nCoV-2019). However, this prevention information is now more prescient than ever when a new virus outbreak occurs. While we must all venture out into the public for various reasons, such as grocery shopping and for work. You can help prevent and limit your exposure by taking certain preventative measures as described in my earlier article. Let’s take my previous article’s advice and expand on it a bit further.

Limit Your Exposure

For nCoV-2019, it’s more important than ever to limit your exposure to others and particularly avoid face-to-face meeting with those people who tend to travel to and from China. If you work at a business where travel to and from China is important to your employer’s bottom line, you should warn your employer and the HR team to enforce mandatory quarantine on all staff returning from China. Insist that these folks must work from home for at least 16 days before returning to work. There’s no reason to risk your entire office staff’s exposure to a possible serious contagion by those returning from China. If a person begins showing any symptoms during that 16 day home quarantine, they should immediately seek medical attention.

Face Masks

surgical-maskWhile I know that these surgical face masks seem popular, they can’t fully prevent exposure to viruses. They may help limit the possibility, but they absolutely will not prevent exposure. Why? Because they still allow air around the edge of the mask. Further, you can still touch a surface with your hand or glove and then wipe your eyes. If you have open sores or cuts, you can easily expose yourself to a virus simply by touching a surface. When you can smell odors with a mask on, then the mask allows very small particulate matter through the mask to your nose and mouth (either at the sides or through the mesh). This can allow a virus in. Standard surgical face masks may help some, but they are no where near perfect.

A face mask only eliminates some airborne particulates, but does nothing to stop body fluid contact on surfaces or air flow around the edge of the mask. Shaking hands with someone might also be enough to transmit and expose you to a virus like nCoV-2019… particularly if you rub your eyes. Even a sneeze in your direction could cause you to inhale it through the sides of a mask.

If you must shake hands with someone, use hand sanitizer immediately after. Better, don’t shake hands. If you can get to a restroom to wash your hands in hot water after shaking hands, you can likely wash off any viruses with soap and hot water. Cold water will work, but hot water works better.

Airborne Viruses

While many state that the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t airborne, that’s kind of a misnomer and somewhat deceptive. Once a person begins showing signs and symptoms of a virus infection, such as coughing and sneezing, it’s possible to spread the contagion. These symptoms ensure that the ill become carriers for the virus. It’s all part of the virus’s plan to spread itself. It uses the body’s reflex mechanisms to launch the virus into the air through coughing and sneezing.

If you hear someone coughing or sneezing near you, you should move as far away as possible. If you’re on a multi-car public transportation system (like a train), you should move to another car. If you’re on a bus, you might want to consider pressing the stop bar, stepping off and waiting for the next bus.

If you’re on a plane, you’re kind of stuck. Planes offer closed recirculated air environments, which can actually lead airborne viruses around the entire plane through the ventilation system. On a plane, if someone is infected with a cold or flu or even nCoV-2019, you’re likely going to get it if they are coughing or sneezing even if they aren’t seated near you.

Office Buildings

Unfortunately, like planes, many office buildings also use closed recirculated air systems. This is done to retain the heat or cold air within, requiring less energy to heat or cool that air again. This also means that it takes only one person to sneeze or cough near an intake vent and a virus can be carried and spread over the entire building, landing on surfaces and making the virus airborne.

Yeah, kinda gross isn’t it? If the building uses HEPA filters on its HVAC system, this may or may not reduce the spread of such particulate matter. Unfortunately, HEPA filters are expensive to set up and maintain on so many intake vents in a large building. Even then, HEPA filters may not reduce airborne viruses. Many building landlords don’t and won’t spend for such filtration systems, mostly because of their limited effectiveness.

In other words, don’t rely on a HEPA filter to protect you from viruses.

Wearing Masks Part II

If you want to completely remove particulate matter and drastically reduce infection possibilities, then you’ll need a mask that not only seals tightly about the face, it must contain strong particulate filters. Such a respirator mask looks like so:

respirator-mask

There are many respirator masks similar to this one. It doesn’t have to be this exact respirator mask model. But, it must fit tightly to the face. If you’re a man with a beard, plan to shave your beard so that no beard portion sits under the edge of the mask. The mask must make tight contact directly with skin, not hair, to fit properly and allow for proper air flow through the mask without leaking air around the edge.

When wearing one of these masks, you should notice three things:

  1. No odors should be discernible
  2. The mask should allow for easy air flow through the mask and not get hot
  3. No air should flow around the edge of the mask

You should not have to struggle to breathe when wearing a mask like this. Air should flow easily, but seemingly all particulate matter should be eliminated. If you can smell nothing in the air, even when around solvents, spray paints or food smells, then the mask is working properly and is fitted correctly. If you begin to smell odors or the mask seems to perform differently than it did, it’s time to replace the filters or check the mask’s fit.

The above type of respirator mask is typically used when spray painting, sandblasting, when using chemicals with noxious fumes or when handling other noxious substances.

I used a respirator mask similar to this when I airbrushed T-Shirts at an amusement park. The particulate overspray coming from the aerosolized paint was palpable until I donned a similar respirator mask. Once I donned a properly fitted respirator mask, I could no longer smell the paint fumes or any other odors (not even the hamburger and fries scent coming from just across the way). Wearing the respirator mask made painting so much more enjoyable and allowed me to focus on the job. I didn’t have to worry about breathing in unnecessary and potentially harmful fumes.

If you’re looking for much better airborne virus protection, a respirator mask is a better option to the mostly ill-fitting surgical masks, which those masks offer only limited protection. Of course, a respirator won’t stop surface to surface contact of a virus, but it can drastically reduce airborne infection. In fact, it might be worth wearing one of these styles of masks when flying on a plane… only taking the mask off to eat or drink. Even then, I’d suggest eating and drinking before the flight and not taking it off until you’re off of the flight. If it’s a 13 hour flight, that might be a little difficult, however.

Just be sure that whatever filtered respirator mask that you choose to buy is well supported by its manufacturer. No-name manufacturers tend to discontinue their masks and filters quickly, leaving you with no way to buy replacement filters. You’ll be forced to buy a brand new mask with an all new filter system. If you choose to buy a respirator mask, be sure to buy enough filters with your purchase to last for as long as you think you’ll need. When you run out of filters, you may be forced to buy a new mask simply because the manufacturer has discontinued that product. Don’t think that because you decide to buy a 3M respirator mask that they will continue to support their products indefinitely. A large brand name is equally likely to discontinue a product as a no-name brand. This is the reason to stock up with as many filters as you can afford while they are available. Don’t let brand names lull you into a sense of security with the availability of product. Even just 1 year can see product changes.

Additionally, these masks rely on rubber and other parts that must come into contact with skin surfaces and whatever chemicals you may work around. It’s possible that skin oils and chemical exposure can degrade the mask’s components over time. Expect to buy a new mask whenever you notice signs of wear and tear or if the mask begins performing poorly even with new filters. Don’t forget that you bought the mask to protect you. If the mask has lost its ability to do this, you’ll want to buy a new one.

nCoV-2019

This new virus underscores the need to always be vigilant in our every day lives, particularly during winter months. During the height of winter is our most susceptible time to viruses because they can live on surfaces much, much longer than during summer months when it’s hot. This is the reason why colds, flu and viruses flare during the winter months. Cold temperatures are a great preservative to viruses.

Unfortunately, the nCoV-2019 virus isn’t something that has any protection yet. Taking a flu shot won’t protect you from nCoV-2019. It’s a virus that is a new strain and it’s also not a form of influenza.

When you’re out and about, be cautious of placing your hands anywhere on your face. If you must, visit a restroom first, wash your hands with warm soapy water, then touch your face. If you’ve been out shopping, you’ll want to wash your hands as soon as you leave the store. In fact, you might want to wash your hands in the store’s restroom once you have your bags loaded into your car. If you want, you can use hand sanitizer, but it’s not always as effective as washing your hands.

Shopping for Delivery

With apps like Instacart, Safeway and Postmates, it’s easy to avoid leaving home for certain types of shopping. With services like these, it’s easy to place an order for 1-3 hour delivery later that day. You’ll pay a little more for the delivery, but it avoids leaving the house. You can even use GrubHub and Yelp delivery services for home delivery of meals. This also avoids visiting a restaurant, potentially infecting yourself at the restaurant.

Dine-In Restaurants with Buffet Bars

As was described in my 2009 article, I’ll reiterate this point here. During fall and winter months, October through March, it’s wise to avoid buying foods from buffet bars (whether at a restaurant or a grocery store). In fact, it’s worth avoiding these types of bars year round. These buffet bars are completely unsanitary. The serving utensils are rarely changed throughout the day. This means that perhaps hundreds, if not thousands, of people could have touched that very spoon you are holding. Yuck!

While the serving trays get regularly changed for fresh foods, the utensils remain. Simply by touching one of these utensils, you may infect yourself with a cold or the flu, let alone nCoV-2019.

I can’t even recall the last time I visited a restaurant that had a salad bar or hot food buffet. Not only are these restaurants far too expensive these days, the food is typically grade C or worse. I’m looking for much better quality food. To get that, I visit restaurants with dine-at-the-table only options. Because sit-down restaurants make your order fresh in the kitchen, you’re unlikely to catch a virus by eating at this type of restaurant. However, serve-yourself restaurants may seem like great ideas, they are far from it.

Restaurants and grocery stores with food bars should be required for each person to grab their own clean serving utensil from a holder then place that utensil into a dirty bin when they are done. For restaurants, it’s better to have a waitperson from the restaurant dish out the food to your plate and not allow the unsanitary practice of people serving themselves from dirty communal serving utensils. This practice is so unsanitary.

Worse, while these bars typically have sneeze and cough glass coverings over the food, children’s faces sit under these protection mechanisms. Children can cough and sneeze all over the food… and it is these children who are typical carriers of cold and flu due to their school age nature. Avoid buffet bars!

Diligence

Always be vigilant with your health in winter months, regardless of outbreaks like nCoV-2019. Yes, this virus strain seems particularly virulent, but you should assume (unless told otherwise) that it is communicable in the same way as a standard Cold and Flu virus. This means following all of the same precautions as documented above (with the exception of the respirator mask). The respirator mask is a bit odd looking, yes, but if you’re heavily concerned that you could come into contact with this virus or if you are particularly susceptible to sinus or bronchial infections, wearing a respirator mask (instead of a surgical mask) can reduce your chances of contracting a virus through airborne means.

With a mask, this means that you’ll need to be diligent to keep your hands away from your eyes and keep all open sores fully covered when out and about. You must always be vigilant and maintain strict health protocols to avoid getting the flu or a cold, let alone a virus like nCoV-2019.

In the US, it seems the nCoV-2019 cases are presently limited to but a few. The difficulty with this situation is that it can change quickly. It only takes a few people who are not known to be infected to head home to the US to begin a large scale infection within the US. The CDC is monitoring the situation, but unfortunately, they can’t stop the spread of an infection like nCoV-2019 themselves.

Traveling is the easiest way for viruses to spread around the world. It only takes a few infected people to visit a few public places and the situation can easily get out of control. You, however, can limit your own exposure by taking the steps described to help keep you healthy and well.

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Getting a virus: Clearing it up faster

Posted in Health, health and beauty by commorancy on October 25, 2009

I’ve recently discussed what I do to help prevent the cold and flu virus, that one is the longer of these two articles.  So, this one will be much shorter.  If you do get a cold, the flu or even a throat infection, you can help reduce the symptoms by using a simple remedy: Zinc.  But, not just any zinc.  I personally use Zicam.  The reason I use Zicam is the formulations available.  While the zinc tablets work, they taste nasty and only coat your throat.  This can work, but I find that the other Zicam formulations work much better.

Gel Swabs

The Zicam gel swabs are my favorite to use.  The way this works is to swab the inside if your nostrils and then close the nostrils just briefly after swabbing.   Apparently, as I understand how this works, the zinc in Zicam kills viruses on contact and, at the same time, prevents new viruses from taking hold.  Since the viruses apparently start and multiply in the nasal cavity, the application of zinc coats your nasal passages and prevents the virus from taking hold and building full colonies.  So, the theory goes, the symptoms are reduced and the length of infection shortened.  For me, this works.

Reduction in symptoms

Whenever I get sick with a virus, I find that using zinc (Zicam variety) reduces sore throats from 5-7 days to about 2-3 days.  So, without zinc, the cold may last 2 weeks.  With Zicam, I find that my colds are over in about 7-9 days.  For me, the symptoms of the cold are greatly reduced as well.

Other zinc formulations

You may get similar results with the lozenges, but I prefer the Zicam formulations.  If another company begins making a similar formulation to the gel swabs, I may try those out. Right now it appears that Zicam is the only brand with this formulation.  I will say that I have also tried Zicam’s nasal spray and throat spray.  For the same reason that I don’t like the lozenges, I don’t like the throat spray (it tastes nasty).  As far as the nasal spray formulation, I don’t like spraying this up inside my nose due to irritation.  So, I stick with the swabs which simply coats the opening to your nose and doesn’t have taste or irritation problems.  Apparently, though, the gel does move up into the nose through breathing, but I don’t seem to feel it like I do with the spray.

So, for prevention, follow my previous article.  But, once you get sick, try using the Zicam gel swabs (or a knock off if you can find one) and see how well they work for you.  If they do nothing, don’t buy them again. But, if they reduce the severity of the symptoms, as I expect they will, then I find that it’s well worth the $12 for a box.

Prevention: Flu Season is here

Posted in Health by commorancy on October 24, 2009

hand-brush[Updated: 2020-03-13] This information is now more relevant than ever considering the COVID-19 virus, which is now officially considered a worldwide pandemic. There is, unfortunately, no preventative like a Flu shot for COVID-19. Don’t go get a flu shot thinking it might protect you from COVID-19. It won’t. In fact, the primary preventative is staying away from crowds of people, in addition to all of the rest of the preventative advice listed below. Further, to protect you and your family, staying home and eating at home is your safest alternative. Jump to the bottom of this article to see even more rigorous preventatives specific to COVID-19.

[Updated: 2018-01-30] Since this 2017-2018 flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent years, I’ll update my advice.

Now that flu season is upon us, I always like to take steps to prevent myself from getting infected from other people or items they may have touched. While there is no magic bullet for this, here are some rules that I personally follow that may help you avoid getting the flu. Let’s explore.

Flu Shots

syringes on white background

In my original 2009 article, I didn’t mention flu shots… and it was for a reason. This is intended as an everyday prevention article, but the intent was to firmly stay away from discussing medical technologies. While medical professionals often profess that a flu shot is effective, take that advice for what it’s worth… advice. While you can get a flu shot at your local pharmacy, at your place of business or at your doctor’s office, you may find that this prevention mechanism isn’t always as effective as it could be. Due to recent events surrounding H3N2, I’ve changed my stance since 2009 and that’s why I am now leading this article with this section.

During the 2017-2018 flu season, the dominant strain of the flu appears to be H3N2. This strain is particularly virulent and has resulted in a number of deaths in children and adults from complications. You may be asking, “Why didn’t my flu shot protect me from H3N2? Wasn’t this strain in the shot?” Yes, this strain (or at least the most common mutation) was included within the 2017-2018 flu shot formulation. You continue, “But, I took the shot and I still got sick anyway”. There may be several reasons for this.

  1. The flu shot may not have contained the exact strain of H3N2 that you got.
  2. The flu shot is formulated using eggs as a carrier. However, the H3N2 strain does not thrive well within an egg carrier causing this strain to be, at best, less effective and, at worst, ineffective in the shot.
  3. In flu seasons other than the 2017-2018 season, it has been known that those in charge of the flu strain lottery have guessed the wrong strains to include in the shot. This has directly contributed to the flu season because the dominant strain was not included.

If you received a flu shot during the 2017-2018 flu season and still got the flu, it may have been a direct result of number 1 and, more likely, number 2 contributing to your illness. As rapidly as viruses can mutate, it’s possible you picked up a strain that wasn’t included in the shot formulation (i.e., number 3).

For very young children or the elderly, getting a flu shot early is still a good first defense. However, don’t rely strictly on the shot to prevent getting the flu as it may not always protect you as expected. You should also consult with a medical professional to ensure that taking the flu shot is the right choice for your health as some people may have reactions to the formulation. Only your doctor can give you medical advice about your health.

As a result of this season’s flu shot ineffectiveness against H3N2, you will need to still use other preventative measures such as …

Wash your hands often with soap and warm water

Washing your hands frequently will eliminate most viruses and bacteria from your hands and prevent you getting them near your nose or mouth. If you can wash your face, you should do so as well.

During winter months, do not eat from serve-yourself open buffets

buffetEating off of salad bars at buffet-style restaurants or other communal type restaurants only serves to get you sick. Instead, opt for ordering from the menu so the food is cooked in the kitchen and served to you directly. This doesn’t eliminate the risk of getting sick, but it drastically reduces your chances because the plates will be clean and the food will be prepared fresh and hot. A cook in the kitchen could be sick, but most better restaurants don’t allow sick cooks in the kitchen (it’s a liability, after all). The fewer people who touch your food, the less chance you have of picking up a virus.

For this same reason, don’t buy foods in grocery stores from open buffet fill-it-yourself containers. The reason for this rule is very clear. Most buffet style places leave spoons out all day in containers and simply switch out the food leaving dirty utensils. Thus, spoons may have been touched by hundreds of people. By touching the spoon on the buffet table, you may be infecting yourself immediately. The food itself may also harbor the flu or a cold virus simply from someone sneezing. For sanitary reasons, avoid buffet serve-yourself meals during the winter to keep yourself healthier. This advice covers both hot and cold food bars including olive bars.

As a side note about buffets.. Buffets are extremely unsanitary. The required sneeze guards do nothing for children. The guards are designed with adult height in mind. A child can easily be face-high to the food, yet their face is under the guard. It’s easy for a child to cough, laugh, sneeze or play around or even with the food or utensils. Since children seem to be the prime carriers for cold and flu viruses, this makes buffets and other serve-yourself food tables very unsanitary. Instead, you should order from a menu at a table. You should always ask the server if they plan serving you your food from the buffet table. If they intend to serve from the buffet, ask to have the restaurant make it fresh in the kitchen instead of serving food to you from the buffet. Better still, visit restaurants that don’t offer a buffet bar of any kind.

“Carry Around” Style Restaurants

This buffet bar advice extends to all kinds of carry around small plate restaurants including Mongolian BBQ, Brazilian Steakhouse, Japanese conveyor belt, Japanese floating boat or Dim Sum restaurants. I’d even avoid company holiday parties which use servers to carry around appetizers on trays and buffet style plates (not that this food is usually very good anyway). Basically, my advice includes any restaurant where food is paraded in front of many people before you have the opportunity to grab it. To these I also say, “Stay away.”

Company Holiday Parties

In general, parties in the winter are a bad idea. When you attend, you’re mixing with many people that you may not know. That’s not necessarily a problem. Worse, though, is the food presentation. Many company parties choose to use carry around servers for appetizers. They also like to use chafing dishes to serve buffet style and sometimes fondue fountains for desserts.

You should contact your company’s event planner early each new year and request that for holiday parties that they choose sit-down restaurant-style waiter-served meals over an open serve-yourself buffet for all parties. You should mention that it is much more sanitary and healthy for everyone involved. The last thing the company holiday party planner wants is to be responsible for making half of the company sick, especially during a particularly harsh flu season. The way to perpetuate sickness is to serve buffet style food. Inevitably, someone will come to the party sick and spread it around.

Tanning beds and UV

While this next portion may seem unusual, it may actually prevent you from getting the flu or colds. If you use a tanning bed, you may decrease your chances of actually contracting a virus or bacterial infection during the winter months. UV is known to disinfect surfaces and kill bacteria and viruses. Using a tanning bed should kill viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin, both hands and body. You don’t necessarily need to use a tanning bed for the maximum time. It may take as little as 1-3 minutes to successfully disinfect the surface of your skin (not necessarily enough time to tan you), although, likely enough time to kill viruses. Disinfecting the surface of your skin through UV should kill off any viruses you may have picked up through contact with other people.

However, once a virus has entered your nasal passages, you are already infected. UV light doesn’t penetrate deep enough to disinfect inside your body. So, don’t tan once you are sick as it won’t help stop it and may only serve to dehydrate you even more than the virus already has. Tanning can be dehydrating. Drink water after tanning.

How often you do this really depends on how often you are out in public with lots of people around you. The longer you are out in public around potentially sick people, then choose to tan at the end of the day to kill off anything you may have come in contact with. Tanning at the end of the day rather than the beginning makes the most sense so that you kill any viruses you may have picked up that day.

Shower regularly with soap

Having good hygiene by showering will also wash away any viruses that may have landed on your skin. Shower regularly to reduce viruses and bacteria on the surface of your skin. A reasonably hot shower or bath combined with soap is quite good at doing cleansing the skin of germs.

Cover open wounds

If you have any cuts or open wounds, cover them properly with bandages. Having an open wound is an invitation for viruses to enter. Keep your cuts clean and keep them covered. Additionally, using antibacterial ointments like Neosporin on wounds can reduce infection and may also kill off or prevent entry of viruses.

Don’t use public phones or public computers

If you must use public phones or computers, bring along some Windex wipes or other disinfecting towelettes to wipe down and disinfect the surface before using it. Basically,  avoid using these devices or clean surfaces where the item could come in contact with your face (like a phone). With public computers, you’re forced to touch the keyboard / mouse and you may then wipe your nose with your hands. Carrying disinfecting towelettes or sanitizer around during the winter months for quick disinfection is the smartest choice. If you can go to the restroom and wash your hands, this is the best choice over sanitizer or wipes.

Wipe down surfaces in your office

Because offices are where we spend most of our day, always wipe down your phone, desk and keyboard. You never know when someone may sit down at your desk and temporarily use your space without your knowledge. Always wipe and disinfect your space each day during the winter time. In fact, you should ask your office supply person to supply your company with disinfecting wipes. This initiative shows the company cares about a healthy workplace.

Public transportation

While I know that public transit is very ‘green’ and, in some cases, cost effective, it can also be a place where you can get sick. By sitting in seats where sick people may have been, you risk contracting the flu or cold viruses just by being there. You may not be able to avoid the use of public transportation, but you can reduce your chances by standing up rather than sitting down. If you stand on public transportation during the winter, you are not touching the seats where someone sick may have been sitting. Holding the hand rail only, you can easily clean your hands with instant hand sanitizer once you exit. Carry a small sized hand sanitizer with you in winter months. If you must sit, then avoid touching your face and use a hand sanitizer after you exit the transit.

If you notice someone coughing around you, move away from them (preferably to another car on a train) or further back if you are in a bus. You can also get off at the next stop and wait for the next bus or train, if they are frequent enough.

For airplane transit, there’s not really much you can do here. If there’s someone who is sick on a plane, you’re very likely to catch it. So, the best bet is to limit travel to only necessary movement during winter months.

Avoid eating out often / order take-out if possible

Eating at any restaurant exposes you to viruses. To avoid this risk, don’t eat out. Instead, buy foods and cook for yourself. Eating at home, there is no risk of becoming infected with a virus (except what you or your family bring home). Because your home is basically a controlled environment, you can prevent getting sick by staying home more often in the winter. If you really do want to eat out, take the food from the restaurant as takeout. Order over the phone from home or your cell and then pick the food up after it’s ready. This means you get exposed to almost nothing other than door handles and money handling. So, use some hand sanitizer or wash your hands when you get home.

Children and School

Unfortunately, if you have school age children, there is little you can do about this risk. Your children will be exposed every day at school. Because schools care about having children’s butts in seats (this is how they get their funding) more than caring about whether a child is sick, school ends up as one big petri dish. With school age children, all you can do is send them off and hope for the best. When your child brings something home (and they will), you’re likely to get it yourself. Until schools are required to care about each child’s health over attendance, this will remain a problem every year. When your child does get sick, keep them at home.

Stay at Home

If you don’t have school age children, staying at home during the height of the flu season can drastically reduce your chances of catching a virus. Going to the movies, eating out, visiting crowded shopping malls, zoos, museums or any other mingling with large gatherings of people all greatly increase your chances of getting sick during flu season. When possible, stay in.

Grocery Shopping

During December, January and February, I only go out for limited reasons such as grocery shopping. I also try to visit stores during off-hours or hours when fewer people will be shopping. These times are typically an hour before closing or the first hour after opening. If it’s a 24 hour market or open until midnight, anytime after 9PM is a great time to shop. In fact, the later at night, the fewer people you will see. You should also wipe down the push cart handle with disinfectant if you have it or use sanitizer after you’re done. Better, shop with your reusable shopping bag. It’s your bag and only you and the cashiers get to touch it. Wash your shopping bags frequently to get rid of germs.

Shopping with Home Delivery

Since companies like Amazon, GrubMarket, GrubHub, DoorDash, Postmates, Safeway and Instacart are now making it easier and cheaper than ever to shop for home delivery, here’s another way you can prevent going out. Order what you need from one of these apps and have it delivered right to your door. Use of these delivery services prevents the need to even enter a store. Inevitably, you will need to go out to fill your car’s tank or get certain items, but you can limit your people interaction on these trips and, thus, reduce your chances of getting sick.

The above are many of my rules that I regularly follow. However, sometimes it isn’t always convenient to follow all of them. In those cases, washing hands frequently with warm water is the bare minimum to help reduce the chances of getting sick during the winter flu season months.

Wash Clothing Frequently

If you’ve been out and about for a long period rubbing shoulder to shoulder with people in a subway, you should wash your clothes when you get home. Washing your clothes in a washer will ensure that your clothing is virus free. Though viruses don’t necessarily last a long amount of time on fabric, estimates may go up to 72 hours. Washing clothing washes away any viruses.

In the winter, we also wear a whole lot more outerwear than is normal in other months. Some of these include scarves and gloves. Buy and use washable outerwear. These materials allow you to throw your gloves and scarves into the washer and dryer to disinfect anything that you might have come in contact with while out and about. Gloves are particularly problematic. If you live in a city with a subway or use other public transportation, your gloves can easily pick up germs that could lead to the Flu.

Wash your outerwear frequently during the winter months. I also recommend avoiding wearing wool or other non-washable outerwear which requires dry cleaning. Because it’s difficult to launder these items, you’ll wear them for much longer than you normally wear clothing that can be washed in a washer, risking viruses. Wearing gloves for too long could be the thing that makes you sick. Instead, choose winter clothing that keeps you warm and is easy to launder… and also wash clothing frequently throughout the flu season.

Updated for COVID-19 — New Preventatives Below

With the release of COVID-19 into the wild and with this virus now being declared an official pandemic, there are even more steps you may want to consider to protect you and your family from contracting COVID-19.

Public Gatherings

Any places where crowds gather in large quantities is best avoided. This means don’t go see movies at a theater. Don’t head to large crowded restaurants. Don’t visit arcades. Don’t go to bars. Don’t ride on overcrowded subway cars. Don’t head over to that huge party. In short, don’t hang out in large crowds.

Choose alternative times to go to work if possible (go in earlier or later in the day). If you can work night shift, choose that shift where you’ll encounter the least amount of people possible.

Traveling

Stay off of planes, buses and crowded trains. Any place where large numbers of folks can congregate, stay away. If you must travel, travel by train in a closed compartment. Stay in the compartment and have your meals served to you in your compartment. Don’t walk around the train unless absolutely necessary. Don’t leave your train compartment unless required.

Planes are particularly problematic because the air is recycled throughout the plane. One person on the plane who is sick invariably will make everyone else sick. Because COVID-19 seems particularly contagious, it’s likely you will become infected when traveling by plane. Avoid unnecessary plane travel. Postpone any travel plans until COVID-19 is under at least some semblance of control.

Schools

If you’re in college, high school or any other type of school, opt for taking courses online from home rather than stepping foot on campus or sitting in crowded classrooms. Don’t eat at the cafeteria. Instead, bring your own packed lunch or visit a drive-thru and then sit in your car or find a secluded spot to eat by yourself.

Church

While I know people can be very devout to their church, it also unfortunately gathers a large number of people together. It’s very easy to get sick by visiting a church. I’ll leave you to decide how best to satisfy your faith requirements. If you can satisfy your faith at home, then stay home and spend an hour doing so instead of visiting your church. If you feel the urge to tithe, ask your church clergy if they have a way to donate electronically.

Eating Out and Entertainment

Avoid. There’s nothing requiring you to eat out. In fact, it’s probably healthier to make meals at home. Take this time to reflect on poor eating choices at restaurants and choose to make meals at home instead. This avoids visiting crowded restaurants and you may surprise yourself at what kinds of meals you can whip up.

Likewise, avoid activities like bowling, amusement parks, movie theaters and, unfortunately, gyms.

If you really must eat out, choose places that have a drive-thru. This avoids leaving your car and, unless someone working at the restaurant is infected, you’re not going to meet or speak to anyone else. I know that this excludes the more expensive sit-down style restaurants, but avoiding being around crowds is the best way to avoid getting infected.

Fitness

I spoke about this just above, but let me expand a little. While I know that many people like to visit gyms regularly, doing so could leave you infected with COVID-19. If you need your fitness fix, try other more solitary activities like walking or running around your neighborhood. Avoiding crowded gyms is a good way to beat getting COVID-19. If you’re a member of 24 Hour Fitness, many of these gyms are open 24 hours. This means you can head over at midnight or 1am and work out then. I know it’s late, but this is the time when you will see the fewest people possible. Though, when this information gets out, you might find that late is the new peak time.

If you enter a store or gym and see more than 8 people, turn around and leave. Use your best judgement also. If it’s a tiny place, but it has a lot of people, leave.

Shopping Late

The best way to avoid becoming infected is by shopping late in the wee hours of the morning. For example, Safeway is open 24 hours a day. By shopping after midnight, you can avoid seeing almost anyone in the store. The only place where you might encounter close contact is at the register. The hours between midnight and 3am are your best choices to avoid contact with people. Not that many places are open 24 hours, but take advantage of those that are.

Hand Sanitizer & Gloves

Wearing disposable gloves or carrying around hand sanitizer can help keep you from getting infected. If you have any open sores on your hands, opt for wearing disposable gloves or finger cots instead. Any open sore is a possible infection point. Make sure these sores remain properly covered when out and about, preferably by the waterproof variety of bandages.

When possible, wash your hands and face as frequently and as thoroughly as possible. When washing your face, wash your hands first thoroughly, then wash your face. After washing your hands in public, avoid touching anything when leaving the restroom. If necessary, use a towel to pull the handle on the door and throw the towel away immediately on the way out. Don’t hold it in your hands. If necessary, throw it on the floor. If the door is push to leave, kick it open with your foot.

Gas Stations

Everyone needs to fill up their car. By touching the gas pump handle, you could pick up COVID-19. Wear disposable gloves when pumping gas. Throw the glove(s) out immediately after replacing the pump handle to its holder. Don’t touch your car at all while wearing the gloves. Don’t fiddle with phone or headphones after having touched the gas pump handle and while wearing gloves. If you must fiddle with your phone, do it before you touch the handle and only after disposing of the gloves.

Touch Screens and Credit Cards

To complete many transactions at stores, you must enter your pin code, sign your name or touch an electronic pen at the point of sale. Wear gloves or, alternatively, utilize hand sanitizer immediately following the use of a touch screen. If you have a disinfectant wipe, you can wipe down the touch surface (if the cashier allows) before touching the screen or buttons. Better, bring a touch sensitive pen with you and use it to touch the screen and the buttons. Disinfect your credit card after you’ve inserted it into the slot and removed it.

If a store offers a wallet system that simply requires scanning your wallet on your phone, use this instead. The more hands-off you can make the purchasing, the less chances you’ll have of becoming infected.

If a store offers in-store pickup, order in advance on your phone, then pick up the items when the order is ready. This avoids contact with almost every surface. If you can utilize items for delivery, opt for this instead.

Washing All Purchases

If you’re bought anything new from a store, wash it immediately. If it’s clothing, immediately put it into the washing machine and wash it in hot water. If possible, dry it in a hot dryer. If you’ve bought something that’s dry clean only, take it to the dry cleaners. Better, buy and wear only wash and wear items during this COVID-19 pandemic.

For food items, buy items that have plastic containers or wrapping. When you get the items home, wash the entire outer packaging under hot water using soap and water. If you’re buying produce, you’ll want to buy produce that can be cooked before eating. Avoid eating produce that must be consumed raw, such as lettuce… unless the produce is individually wrapped in plastic and the outer plastic can be thoroughly washed.

After touching any purchased items, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before eating, drinking or scratching.

Avoid Touching your Face

When you are out and about in public, avoid touching any part of your face. If you have an itch, leave it. Don’t scratch. Wait until you have washed your hands and face before touching any part your face. I know this one is tough, but keeping your hands away from your face is key to not bringing any germs into contact with your nose, eyes or mouth.

Coughing and Sneezing

If you hear anyone sneezing or coughing near you, move away or, better, leave. For example, if you need to visit your local Driver’s License office, this inevitably has at least one or two sick people. Avoid these public servant places like, ahem, the plague. If you can do your transactions online or by mail, do that instead. For example, California now offers a machine at various grocery stores to renew your car’s tags. Take advantage of these systems and avoid sitting in crowded close-contact surroundings.

Bars

Most bars are only required to rinse glasses through a weak bleach water solution between uses. As a result of this washing activity, it’s possible you could pick up COVID-19 from a glass washed at a bar. I’d suggest avoiding bars unless you absolutely know that the bar washes their glasses in a dishwasher after every use. Ask the bartender if you are unsure of their glass washing practices.

Common Sense

Many of these above are simply common sense. The most important is regularly washing your hands with hot water and soap and also the use of hand sanitizer for those in-between times. If you have open sores, cuts or scrapes, make sure these are appropriately bandaged and covered… preferably with antibiotic ointment. While the ointment may not actually kill the COVID-19 virus, it does create an additional barrier between your open sore and entry of the virus, just like the bandage.

Asian Restaurants and Asian Markets

This last part may is probably the most controversial, but it’s definitely worth mentioning. Consider the primary demographic of any establishment you intend to visit. If you realize that the primary demographic for that establishment has high possibility of infection, you might want to think twice at visiting.

Contrary to some opinions on this topic, I will agree to these articles’ primary point. It’s not the restaurant food or grocery store items that is likely to get you infected with COVID-19. Instead, it will be that establishment’s customers. When you visit a Chinese grocery or Chinese restaurant, many of these establishment appeal to Chinese customers of all persuasions. What that means is when heading into one of these stores or restaurants, you do so at your own risk. It’s not the food or prepackaged items sold that will infect you, no. It’s that someone before you may have touched or sneezed on a package or, in fact, that person may be standing next to you in line when purchasing your food or paying your restaurant bill. The chances of encounter with the COVID-19 infection is much, much greater at places that attract the Chinese demographic.

These types of stores are open public spaces that are intended to appeal to everyone, but more particularly to those of Chinese descent. This statement isn’t meant to cast any aspersions. Instead, it’s a realistic assessment on the COVID-19 situation. Many recent Chinese immigrants feel much more at home when they eat at a Chinese restaurant or shop at a Chinese market. If they have recently traveled to and from China, then that whole establishment is at risk when they shop. That’s not to say that eating at McDonald’s or Denny’s is a better (or safer) choice. But, the risk is likely somewhat lower at restaurants that don’t widely appeal to a higher infection-rate demographic. Though, this pandemic is most certainly liquid and ever changing. As more and more people are infected, the demographic may swing from mainly Chinese to a wide array of demographics.

We already know that this virus spreads easily and rapidly, likely now more by surface contact than by exchange of bodily fluids. However, both are definitely possible. Visiting an establishment which is most likely to attract the highest infection demographic is always worth avoiding in the short term. Once the virus has begun to decline its spread, then it may be safe again to visit these types of establishments.

As I said above, if you must have Chinese food, find a place that either offers a drive-thru or use a home delivery service. That doesn’t mean the food or the containers can’t be infected, but the chances are reduced when only restaurant staff have ever handled or breathed on those containers.

Microwave Your Takeout — Toss Takeout Containers Rapidly

To reduce changes even further with purchased foods… If you’ve gotten takeout from a restaurant, no matter the type of food, it’s worth removing the food from its restaurant takeout container(s), then reheating the food in a microwave on your own dinnerware. Make sure to stir it well and that it gets hot enough.

While your food is re-heating in the microwave, dispose of all takeout containers in a separate trash bag or directly into a dumpster. Make sure you can’t accidentally touch the containers again after you’ve disposed of them. Finally, wash your hands thoroughly before touching or eating the now microwaved food. If the food can’t be easily microwaved (i.e., salads or cold food options), you might want to consider hot food choices instead.

If you really must have a salad, I’d suggest buying salad ingredients at a grocery store and making the salad yourself at home. Buying cold salads at any restaurant affords an excellent transportation opportunity for COVID-19. I’d also say the same thing about cold beverages and containers, such as Boba. Decant the beverage from its original takeout container into a properly sanitized glass, then discard the original packaging… making sure to wash and/or sanitize your hands before consuming the beverage. This beverage situation goes for Boba places to be sure, but also places like Starbucks.

Better, make and eat foods at home. Leave the the takeout for safer times.

Disclaimer: This article is not to be construed in any way as dispensing medical advice. The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with a licensed medical professional to discuss your specific health needs.

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