Photo of a Woman on Couch Sick with the Flu

It’s that time of year again when colds and influenza (flu) outbreaks are at their worst.

In fact, reports already indicate that this year’s flu season is off to a fast start and early indications suggest that it may be more severe than the previous season.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, four states already have widespread breakouts and the other 46 states have some sort of reported flu activity (see map).

With influenza moving rapidly this year we thought that it would be good to share some tips on how to prevent the flu from spreading in your house this season.

Below, you’ll discover what the most contaminated public places are for contracting the flu and how you can defend yourself against it, as well as what you should clean and disinfect at home to ward off any viruses.

What are the Germiest Public Places?

With cold and flu season here there’s no doubt going to be a lot of germs floating around. However, there are some places you go that are proven to be germier than others.

Knowing where these places are and how you can protect yourself from picking up a nasty virus will help you stay a lot healthier this winter.

The germiest public places include:

  • Restaurants
    When out a a restaurant, have you ever seen someone clean a menu? How about disinfect the condiment containers? Probably not. In fact, there are a many objects inside a restaurant that get touched by lots of hands throughout the day and rarely ever get sanitized. With the flu virus being able to survive up to 24 hours on hard surfaces, this makes restaurants a prime location for getting infected. Also, nearly 70% of the lemon slices used in restaurants beverages contain disease-causing microbes, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Environmental Health.
  • Public Restrooms
    Bacteria and viruses thrive in moist places, which makes public restrooms a prime target for the the spread of flu germs. The most common places for contracting an illness are from toilet seats, sinks, soap dispensers and door handles. These areas are rarely cleaned well enough (if at all) to kill lingering influenza germs.
  • Public Transportation
    Similar to restaurants and public restrooms, public transportation options hardly ever get cleaned or sanitized properly. Plus, being packed inside a bus, train or airplane with lots of other people makes it easier for you to catch germs.
  • Doctor’s Office
    When flu season is in full effect doctor’s offices are flooded with patients seeking medical treatment. Unfortunately, this means that these types of locations are likely filled with cold and flu viruses. Even places like a pediatrician’s office, where waiting rooms are separated for the “sick” and “not sick” kids, may seem safe, but often are just as germy as a family practice that doesn’t have barriers installed.
  • Schools and Day Cares
    Locations like schools and day cares, where lots of children are crammed together for an extended period of time, are often the most contaminated public places for cold and flu germs to spread. If you have kids, then you know that they don’t have the best hygiene habits, which makes the chances of influenza making its way into your home a greater risk.
  • Grocery Stores
    A recent statistic shows that the average U.S. consumer visits the grocery store 1.5 times per week. Combine that with that fact that there are more than 300 million people living in the U.S., it’s no wonder why grocery stores rank so high as being one of the germiest public places. Grocery cart handles and the buttons on credit card processors are some of the most contaminated spots you can touch.

How to Protect Yourself Against the Flu When You’re in Public

Although there are a lot of germy places out there, and ones you probably can’t avoid, you shouldn’t let this stop you from living a normal life.

Even if a public place does have cold and flu germs floating around there are some steps you can take to stay healthy no matter where you go.

  • Wash your hands in public places
    Make it a habit to always wash your hands with soap as soon as you enter a public place and again right before you leave. After washing, don’t touch the sink or door handles with your hand, but rather use a paper towel to protect yourself in order to turn off the faucet and open the door. Then, toss the paper towel on the ground right before you leave. This may upset the janitor, but your health is more important. Also, when you’re in a public place, don’t ever touch your face. You may have picked up cold or flu germs on your hands and your eyes and mouth are how they’ll get into your body.
  • Don’t touch things with your bare hands
    You just read our tip on how to use a paper towel in the bathroom to protect yourself against germs. This same idea works other places too. If you know you’re going to visit a germy public place, bring a pack of pocket tissues with you so you can use them as barriers when touching things. Or, use other parts of your body that don’t touch your face, like an elbow to push elevator buttons, a shoulder to push open doors or the backside of your wrists to push a cart.
  • Carry hand sanitizer
    Sometimes it’s unavoidable to touch things while you’re out and about. To defend against germs, make it a practice to always carry hand sanitizer with you. Use it immediately after touching a surface that others are likely to contaminate, such as restaurant menus, condiment bottles, door handles, pens, cart handles, etc.
  • Disinfect shared surfaces
    If you ever find yourself having to use a shared surface in a public location, like a desk or food court table, do as much as you can to disinfect that area before using it. If you’re carrying hand sanitizer with you, squirt some on a paper towel and wipe down the item to kill any germs. If you don’t have any sanitizer and a restroom is close by, don’t hesitate to put some soap on a wet towel and bring it out to clean the area. Travel size packages of sanitizing wipes are also available for purchase if you want to go that route instead.

How to Prevent the Flu from Spreading in Your House

Even if you follow all of the steps in the previous section for avoiding cold and influenza in public places, the fact is you may still be carrying germs that have latched onto you.

The best advice for how to prevent the spread of viruses indoors is to stop germs before they have a chance to contaminate your house.

To do that, follow this advice:

  • Leave germs at the front door
    Make it a house rule that all coats and shoes must be taken off when coming inside.
  • Make hand washing mandatory
    Insist that hands must be washed with soap and water before touching anything around the house.
  • Take a shower
    Taking a shower is the next best step to avoid getting sick. Bacteria and viruses can attach themselves to your hair follicles and skin, so showering off any hitchhikers will flush them down the drain.

More Ways to Keep Your Home Germ-Free

Additional steps for how to prevent the flu from spreading in your house this season is to purify the air and disinfect certain areas.

As we mentioned earlier, cold and flu viruses can stay active for up to 24 hours on many surfaces. This means that you may already have these germs floating around your home without even knowing it.

To stay safe, we suggest that you follow the tips outlined below.

Invest in an Air Purifier

Unless you want to wear a full-face respirator all the time, the next best way for how to prevent the spread of viruses inside your house is to invest in an air purifier.

An air purifier is a special device that removes microorganisms from the air, so that they don’t end up in your lungs and make you sick.

These products are so powerful that they can remove up to 99.97% of airborne particulate matter.

To combat colds, influenza and other viruses, you’ll want an air purifier that’s equipped with an ultra violet (UV-C) light. This UV-C light emits a safe form of radiation that destroys bacteria and viruses at their core, leaving them harmless to humans.

To find out more, check out our in-depth guide on the top rated ionic air purifiers that explains everything you need to know to keep your home sterile and safe during the flu season.

Disinfecting Your Home

It will serve you well to be extra cautious this time of year.

To make sure that your home starts out germ-free this winter, you can take certain steps to disinfect it before a flu outbreak occurs.

Note: These are the same steps you would take when sanitizing your home after flu has hit someone in your family.

Start Off Right

  • Buy the right cleaning product
    Not all disinfecting sprays can kill the influenza virus. Check the back of the label to make sure that it will work before making a purchase.
  • Wear a disposable mask
    Before you start the cleaning process, put on a disposable dust mask. This will protect you from breathing in any virus particles that get stirred up in the air. You can get this item at any home improvement store.
  • Use paper towels, not sponges
    Sponges and rags tend to spread germs around. When cleaning with paper towels, you spray, wipe and toss them in the trash can. This permanently removes cold and flu particles from the environment.
  • Opt for disinfecting wipes
    Cleaning with disinfecting wipes is much better than paper towels. When using a wipe like this you wipe the surface and let it dry, which gives it more time to kill viruses lingering on the surface.

Household Items You Should Disinfect

  • The remote control
    This is the most touched and least cleaned item in the house.
  • Phones and mobile devices
    Our hands are constantly on these things, so give them a good cleaning.
  • Laptops and computers
    All it takes is one stroke of the keyboard to become contaminated. Check the manual first, but often you can disinfect keyboards and trackpads with an alcohol wipe.
  • The bathroom
    Cold and flu viruses easily thrive on faucets, counters and toilets, as well as cling to towels.
  • Tabletop surfaces
    These areas are constantly being touched and various items are put on top of them that may contain the influenza virus. Always disinfect kitchen counters, night stands, coffee tables, etc. to keep cold and flu particles in check.
  • Bedding and towels
    If someone in your house has to flu, wash their bedding and any towels that person has come in contact with on a high temperature to kill of the virus.
  • Toys and stuffed animals
    If you have children and one gets sick, disinfect all of their hard surface toys. For stuffed animals, toss it in the laundry on a high temperature or keep it out of reach for a few days so any germs can die off.

And remember, after handling any of the things listed above, wash your hands with soap and water to prevent any germs from getting you sick or spreading to other areas of the house. Washing hands routinely is one of the simplest ways for how to prevent germs from spreading at home.