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Test Your Germ Smarts

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The sunscreen is put away and school is back in swing. After a long, hot summer, cooling weather is a welcome relief but not just for us humanoids. Viruses and bacteria are pretty darn happy as well because they multiply better in colder weather and do not live as long in warm weather. Hence, we all get to look forward to the onslaught of the cold and flu season.


Test your germ smarts to see how prepared you are for the battle against colds and flus sweeping through your home, school, or office.


1. How many germy surfaces (doorknobs, light switches, shopping-cart handles, counters, toys, keyboards, ATMs, etc) can you touch in one minute?
An often said statistic is 300 in half an hour or ten in one minute. In one minute, you could pick up germs left by others that can get you sick from ten surfaces.


2. How often do we wash our hands?
One survey says six times a day. That may be optimistic. Since we are awake approx sixteen hours a day that translates into once every 2.5 hours. Your palms have potentially touched 1500 potentially germy surfaces between washings.


3. How long do germs live on hands?
Depending on the germ, anywhere from two to twenty-four hours. 


4. True or false: getting germs on your hands is how you get sick.
Not unless you have open sores on your hands. Touching your face with your hands and transferring germs to your mouth, nose, eyes, and ears is how germs get inside us and make us sick


5. How many times do we touch our face?
Sixteen times in an hour or once every three minutes.


6. How many times can you cough or sneeze in one hour?
No clear statistics on this, but some suggest up to twenty times an hour or once every three minutes when you are sick. Covering coughs or sneezes with the palm of your hand can infect ten surfaces you touch for every minute until you wash your hands twenty seconds with soap and warm water.


7. How many surfaces does an elbow touch in one minute?
Less than five an hour. Elbows are not used to open doors, pick up toys, flick on light switches, turn on faucets, work on keyboards and joysticks, etc. You really have to work at it to touch things with your elbow. 


If we touch ten potentially germy surfaces in a minute, touch our face once every three minutes, and only wash our hands once every 2.5 hours, we expose ourselves to 1500 surfaces and have touched our face fifty times between washings. Wow, so many opportunities for the germs!


Since washing more often is not always practical and washing hands before we touch our face (approximately every three minutes) is almost impossible, reducing how much you touch your face is the best defense. See the Germ Smarts for Kids with Germy Wormy Germ Stoppers Five list below for great suggestions.


If a person coughs or sneezes once every three minutes and uses his/her  hands to cover his/her cough and only washes their hands every 2.5 hours, that person has potentially infected 1500 surfaces. Tissues are not always available and we don’t carry sinks in our back pockets so how can we cover without using our hands?


Jumping on the cough-and-sneeze-into-your-elbow-or-sleeve bandwagon eliminates infecting all of those surfaces. This concept is slowly replacing the cover your cough with your hands that most of us were taught and is highly recommended by the CDC and most of the medical community.


Margaret Back, creator of the Germ Smarts for Kids with Germy Wormy program says “Staying healthy all boils down to two things: don’t get germs and don’t give germs. I created the Germ Smarts for Kids Germ Stoppers Five to help my children remember healthy habits so they don’t get germs and have to admit they help me remember as well.”


Germ Stoppers Five


1. If you need to touch your face, the back of the hand is the place.
You don’t touch potentially germy surfaces with the back of your hand, you do it with your palm. Using your palm to touch your face is like creating an autobahn for germs.


2. Keep bad germs from getting inside you: no fingers, hands, or things in your mouth, eyes, ears, or nose.
Germs are invisible so kids don’t realize that they are giving germs a ride when they put things in their mouth. On the Germ Smart for Kids DVD, germs become visible as glitter glue and show how they can spread.


3. Things that touch mouths are not for sharing.
This is a great one-liner to use with kids when they reach for a sibling’s cup or food.


4. Make sure you keep your distance when someone is sick: no hugging or kissing until everyone is better.
This one is probably the hardest with kids but one of the top reasons moms get sick when their kids get sick (creator of the program included).


5. Wash your hands and face with soap and water—sing the ABC song!
On the Germ Smarts DVD, germs come alive as glitter glue. Seeing glitter glue spread to the faces, noses, and mouths of the kids in the video is eye opening and makes the phrase “go wash your hands and face” a lot more meaningful.


On the “don’t give germs” side of the coin, the program also includes a disposable sleeve with a cute germ-loving character called Germy Wormy who helps make cough-and-sneeze-into-your-sleeve fun for kids (they get to feed the Germy Wormy) and keeps little sleeves clean.


Although the above does require changes in habit, Germ Stoppers Five and the cough-and-sneeze-into-your-elbow/sleeve method can make a serious difference in how often you and your family get sick this cold and flu season.

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