7 Ways to Keep Your Home Hygienic and Germ-Free This Winter

The cases of flu, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and COVID-19 are rising, especially in the holiday season. These three diseases are hitting the U.S. at the same time and are referred to as a 'tripledemic,' resulting in a huge burden on individuals and healthcare providers. How can we prevent the spread? Read on to learn more about home hygiene and a germ-free home for this winter.

Key takeaways:

Respiratory diseases are usually on the rise during the fall and winter seasons. Typically, in the U.S., flu and RSV-related respiratory illnesses increase around the holiday season. Additionally, clinicians are still seeing COVID-19 cases as newer variants of coronavirus emerge. This tripledemic puts an unusual strain on the healthcare system.

Respiratory viruses spread due to the droplet infection or airborne infection. However, it is possible to prevent the spread of viruses by adopting disinfecting protocols during holiday gatherings and as a routine measure. Here, we discuss cleaning measures to make homes germ-free.

What does it mean to be germ-free?

Removing germs that cause disease is a three-step process.

  • Cleaning. It is the basic task of scrubbing surfaces with water and soap. It can help improve appearance by removing dirt from surfaces but does not remove all germs.
  • Sanitizing. Using diluted bleach or various sprays after cleaning helps reduce the germs on a surface.
  • Disinfecting. This process kills or eliminates disease-causing pathogens from nonliving surfaces and human skin. This process usually uses chemicals such as alcohol, iodine, chlorine, and bleach solutions for a certain amount of time. Disinfecting results in a reduction of more than 103 log colony-forming units (CFU) of microorganisms.

Before you develop a disinfecting protocol, you would need to consider two things — type of surfaces and how often they are used or touched.

Types of surfaces

  • Soft surfaces such as drapes and rugs need to be washed with an appropriate type of cleaner. Carpets may need a thorough cleaning using a carpet shampoo and then may be cleaned using a vacuum cleaner per your cleaning schedule.
  • Linen and towels are soft surfaces that need regular wash. Do not let dirty laundry accumulate. If someone in your family is sick, their clothes can be washed with other laundry. Use gloves to handle their laundry and wash clothes using the warmest water settings.
  • Hard surfaces such as floors and counters need extra attention. Before sanitization of floors, decluttering high-traffic areas such as entryways might be necessary. Organizing shoe racks, coat stands, etc., and providing hand sanitizers at the entrance may be useful. Regular care of clutter-prone spots such as kitchen or nursery rooms becomes essential before you adopt a sanitization protocol.

How do I keep my house sanitized?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers guidance of proper disinfecting protocol to control the transmission of viruses. Here are the best practices to keep your house sanitized:

  1. Regular cleaning. Always ensure surfaces are cleaned using soap and water before applying any disinfectant to eliminate particles or impurities.
  2. Appropriate disinfectants. Ensure the use of EPA-approved disinfectants proven effective against specific pathogens like SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and RSV. Use the product according to its instructions for safety and proper performance. Special attention is for individuals with asthma, as some disinfectants and cleaning fluids can trigger asthma.
  3. High-touch surfaces. Disinfect high-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, switchboards, counters, desks, and electronic devices regularly.
  4. Proper contact time. Ensure adequate contact time to eliminate the germs effectively by letting the disinfectant stay on various surfaces. This contact time may range from 30 seconds to a few minutes and is usually mentioned on the label of the disinfectant.
  5. Ventilation. Promote adequate ventilation, especially in indoor areas, to minimize airborne pollutants. While or after cleaning, turn the HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems settings to improve circulation in the area. Ensure that the HVAC systems have filters with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) of 13 (or better).
  6. Personal protective equipment (PPE). Using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks may be necessary while cleaning if you or your family members were exposed to someone with a tripledemic disease. Several counties have issued health advisories to use masks indoors. Check periodically for the health advisory in your county as it depends on the number of hospitalizations or viruses found in the area.
  7. Wash hands after disinfecting. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Most store-available soaps can destabilize the virus and wash it off. If soap is not available, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol may be used.

Additionally, vaccines for all three diseases are available and can help prevent hospitalizations. However, these vaccines are usually effective for 1–2 years only. Talk to your primary care provider to determine if vaccination is an option.

In a nutshell, maintaining proper disinfection protocols remains essential to reduce infections. Daily cleaning cycles and adopting the CDC-recommended best practices create hygienic environments.

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