How to stay safe from the flu this winter

by Sally Blundell / 17 June, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Stay safe flu winter

Photo/Getty Images

According to research, soap and water are more effective at removing the flu virus than alcohol-based hand-rubs.

A flu virus can be passed on a day before symptoms develop and up to seven days afterwards. If you get sick, ESR public health physician Sarah Jefferies recommends:
  • Stay at home until at least 24 hours after the fever is gone.
  • Keep warm and rest.
  • Maintain fluid intake.
  • Wash your hands with soapy water and dry thoroughly.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Seek advice if things are not getting better – call Healthline (0800 611 116) or contact your GP.

Some viruses can live on surfaces for 24 hours. So, although they’re transmitted by physical contact or the droplets propelled by coughs and sneezes, if you touch a doorknob, lift button or supermarket trolley with viruses on them and then touch your own eyes, mouth or nose, you are at risk.

The easiest way to avoid this is to wash your hands. Soap and water are more effective than alcohol-based hand-rubs at removing the influenza virus and human rhinovirus – the cause of many colds – according to a 2012 study in the Journal of Medical Virology. Alcohol-based cleaners eliminate bacteria better, according to most studies, but alcohol doesn’t kill everything – and certain viruses and bacterial spores aren’t affected. It’s not that soap and water actually kill viruses and germs; they don’t. But they mechanically remove them from your skin.

The Harvard Medical School has four tips for good hand hygiene:

  • Don’t scrub: Scrubbing can damage your skin and create cracks and small cuts that give viruses and bacteria a place to grow.
  • Keep your fingernails short: Bacteria like the areas under your fingernails and long nails make it difficult to keep those areas clean.
  • Use hand lotion if your hands are prone to skin cracks: This is especially important during winter.
  • Don’t hurry: It is important not just to wash but to properly dry your hands. To do it properly takes about a minute. Wash your hands for as long as it takes to slowly sing one chorus of Happy Birthday.

In a 2012 issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the Auckland District Health Board reported a marked reduction in Staphylococcus aureus infections among patients after it implemented the Hand Hygiene New Zealand programme and increased healthcare workers’ compliance with hand-hygiene regulations from 35% to 60%.

However, a University of Otago study reported in 2015 that installing hand-sanitiser dispensers in classrooms in 68 South Island primary schools to supplement normal hand-hygiene practices had no effect on absence rates due to winter illnesses. Yet at least one of the schools kept the dispensers because they believed these made a difference – if only to reinforce the hand-washing habit.

Other studies have shown that using too small an amount of alcohol-based rubs – one squirt – is no better than soap and water. So use several squirts. Ensure all surfaces of your hands have contact with the alcohol.

As Nelson infectious diseases specialist Richard Everts told the Listener two years ago, even if we don’t have definitive evidence about the benefit of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, at least they do no harm. “They’re reasonably cheap, not too big to carry round, don’t damage the environment and they’re not toxic. And it’s not like using antibiotics – bugs will never get resistant to alcohol.”

This article was first published in the June 9, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

A big science investment - but where’s the transparency?
99199 2018-11-17 00:00:00Z Tech

A big science investment - but where’s the transpa…

by Peter Griffin

An extra $420m is being pumped into the National Science Challenges - but the reasoning behind the increased investment won't be released.

Read more
NZ music legend Gray Bartlett has a new album – and a wild past
99182 2018-11-16 13:32:58Z Music

NZ music legend Gray Bartlett has a new album – an…

by Donna Chisholm

We revisit this profile on award-winning guitarist Gray Bartlett, who's just released a new album, Platinum!

Read more
Vint Cerf: The father of the Internet reflects on what his creation has become
99178 2018-11-16 13:13:08Z Tech

Vint Cerf: The father of the Internet reflects on …

by Peter Griffin

"We were just a bunch of engineers trying to make it work. It didn't even occur to us that anybody would want to wreck it," says Vint Cerf.

Read more
Win a double pass to the NZ premiere screening of Mary Queen of Scots
99165 2018-11-16 10:51:28Z Win

Win a double pass to the NZ premiere screening of …

by The Listener

Starring Academy Award nominees Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie, Mary Queen of Scots explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart.

Read more
Goodside: The North Shore’s new food precinct
99155 2018-11-16 09:33:23Z Auckland Eats

Goodside: The North Shore’s new food precinct

by Alex Blackwood

North Shore residents will have plenty to choose from at Goodside.

Read more
The death of Radio Live
99147 2018-11-16 06:54:48Z Radio

The death of Radio Live

by Colin Peacock

14 years after launching “the new voice of talk radio”, MediaWorks will silence Radio Live. Mediawatch looks at what could replace it.

Read more
Should Lime scooters stay or should they go?
99103 2018-11-16 00:00:00Z Social issues

Should Lime scooters stay or should they go?

by The Listener

For every safety warning, there’ll be a righteous uproar about the public good regarding the environment. It's about finding the right balance.

Read more
Kiwi drama Vermilion is hamstrung by a frustrating lack of clarity
98992 2018-11-16 00:00:00Z Movies

Kiwi drama Vermilion is hamstrung by a frustrating…

by James Robins

Academic and film-maker Dorthe Scheffmann has had a hand in some of New Zealand cinema’s most beloved movies. So what went wrong?

Read more