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3 Ways to Help Prevent the Flu from Spreading in Your House

Kids are really good at spreading germs, but parents can mitigate the risk. Our panel of doctors explain how.

The following was produced in partnership with Lysol, which helps parents keep their homes clean and disinfected throughout every unpredictable moment of cold and flu season. Remember to always use Lysol products as directed and only on the surfaces listed on the label.

You know when cold and flu season is coming, so why is it so hard to keep those germs away from your child and your home? Probably because colds and flu are passed (very effectively) by hand-to-surface contact and school-age kids touch everything and everyone. Kids share hugs and crayons and food and personal space, exposing them to pathogens and putting them at risk. Against those odds, disinfecting seems daunting. But the rewards — a healthy, happy family that doesn’t have to miss school or work and avoids costly medical bills — are well worth it.

READ MORE: The Fatherly Guide to Flu Season and Kids

“You reduce your risk of getting common infections by at least 50 percent if you just follow good hygiene practices,” says University of Arizona environmental microbiology professor Charles Gerba. “The cost of when a child gets ill is substantial; disinfecting and sanitizing will save you more money than you realize. So it’s good from both a health standpoint and an economic one.”

To help you effectively disinfect your home in order to stop the spread at the first sign of cold or flu, we asked Dr. Gerba and Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for some of their favorite flu season tips.

Flu Season Tip #1: Start with the hands.

Washing hands immediately upon arriving home provides parents with at least some assurance that every dollar, door handle, and phone-distracted pedestrian they brushed up against during the day hasn’t passed along germs to the brassware. Again, the goal can’t be “100 percent germ-free” but it absolutely can be not living in a viral menagerie.

“We’ve done studies where we’ve put viruses on people’s hands and within four hours of entering their home it’s on 90 percent of the surfaces they touched,” Dr. Gerba says. “Using hand sanitizer and hand washing immediately when coming into the home will reduce a child’s exposure.”

Also, vice versa. “It’s almost inevitable that parents will get sick from their children,” says Dr. Jen. “That’s why following common sense basics of good handwashing — every time they come home from school, before eating, after using the bathroom — is so important to minimize cold and flu germs in the home.”

Flu Season Tip #2: Disinfect high-traffic surfaces. 

After sufficient hand-washing, parents should unleash their full arsenal of disinfecting products on frequently touched surfaces — and not just the overtly gross ones like changing tables or surfaces where kids throw and mash the food they should be eating.

For example, doorknobs and faucets get touched constantly and should be disinfected accordingly. Toys should be disinfected and then rinsed with potable water to avoid passing germs to other kids, babysitters, and grandparents joining in playtime. Seats must be cleaned (people always forget the furniture) and the bottom of a car seat, in particular, can get super grimy.

Dr. Gerba points out helpfully that it’s also key to get the cell phone. Kids love to touch phones. Adults constantly touch phones. Phones are filthy. (Gerba made a “talking dirty” joke, natch.)

Flu Season Tip #3: Daycare is dirty — embrace the flu shot. 

The problem is, keeping a spotless, sanitized home only gets parents so far. Kids are still gross, and gross kids spend lots of time with other gross kids in close quarters “sneezing, coughing, playing with toys, and touching their noses, mouths, and butts,” says Dr. Jen. “Seventy to eighty percent of surfaces in daycare centers have influenza on them during flu season,” adds Dr. Gerba.

“Seventy to eighty percent of surfaces in daycare centers have influenza on them during flu season”

Disinfecting will help parents feel better about hanging all those finger paintings on the fridge. Beyond that, parents can mitigate the spread of cold and flu by breaking out the tissues and making sure everyone gets the flu shot. But, at the end of the day, they have only one path through flu season, the path of pathogenic resistance. Meaning be perpetually prepared to wipe down everything. That may sound tedious, but common sense isn’t always exciting. That’s the price of parenting — and it’s actually a good deal.

dad vacuuming with baby in arm