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November 6, 2013

Keep sickness at bay in your home

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — While cold and flu season is approaching with cooling temperatures, the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses can be nipped in the bud by adopting good disinfection practices and being aware of self-inoculation.

The best way to stay safe is to wash your hands with antibacterial soap before touching your eyes, nose or mouth, because no matter how many contaminants are on surfaces or in the air, they still have to get inside your body, said Paula Keller, the technical director of epidemiology at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital.

While cleaning a surface removes germs, disinfecting a surface is what kills them, said Dr. Bernadette M. Gendernalik, of McLaren Family Medicine in Clinton Township.

“The interesting thing about germs on surfaces is they are very easy to kill,” Keller said, adding that most home cleaning products contain ammonium, which works to eliminate germs.

She also highly recommended a 1-to-10-part bleach and water solution — although she cautioned that the bleach will stain clothes and certain surfaces — as well as disinfecting wipes for a simple way to kill germs on surfaces.

Kris Sallay, owner of Maid Today, a home cleaning service based in Troy, said there is no particular brand of cleaning product that works best, and generic products work just as well, as long as they say “disinfectant” or “antibacterial.”

Sallay said germs breed in commonly used areas in homes, especially doorknobs, TV remote controls, keyboards, light switches, telephones and desktops.

“Those are the things everybody uses, and (germs) just breed in all of those key areas,” she said. “Those items have more germs than toilet seats.”

Sallay’s company uses disinfecting spray on cloths to kill germs, but she also recommended disinfecting wipes. Sallay said she prefers to use cloth towels instead of paper towels because they do not shred and fall apart, but Keller cautioned to make sure to wash cloth towels, lest they become “little incubating germ bags.”

She also suggested washing delicates, sheets and towels — anything personal — in hot water to kill germs and prevent them from spreading.

Another practice is avoiding cross contamination in the kitchen by using separate cutting boards for bacteria-rich raw meat — especially chicken, which can contain the salmonella bacteria — and vegetables, and washing them after each use.

If someone in your household has the misfortune of catching a cold or flu, Keller said another good practice is to allot them their own drinking glass, cutlery, avoid kissing him or her on the mouth and remind him or her to maintain vigilant hand hygiene after coughing.

“Ibuprofen is a wonderful anti-ache and fever reducer, and Tylenol is also recommended by physicians — cough medicine, aspirin,” Keller said. “One doctor suggested mouthwash with peroxide in it. It’s also good hygiene to throw out your toothbrush when you feel better.”

Gendernalik said to drink a lot of liquids and get rest. She said that zinc lozenges may help by coating the membranes of the throat and reducing viruses from catching on.

Another recommendation from Keller is good old chicken noodle soup.

“When your throat hurts, a lot of doctors recommend gargling with salt water. It pulls the edema (swelling) out of your throat,” she said. “And a lot of chicken soup has salt in it, so it does make it feel better.”

Besides controlling the spread of germs, other factors in homes can lead to sickness, such as mold and radon gas, which generally seeps up from the basement.

David Scott, president of Peak Environment, an environmental remediation service based in Troy, said that it is important to monitor the home for moist areas and to test the air quality.

While mold produces a dank odor and can cause symptoms akin to allergies, radon is an invisible, odorless gas that has been linked to lung cancer and is released during the natural decay of uranium, which is found in nearly all soils, Scott said.

He said kits are available at home improvement stores to test air quality.

For more information about radon, visit www.epa.gov/radon.