Tis the season—for the cold and flu. And chances are, someone in your household will catch something. Here's how to keep the rest from following suit.
illustration washing hands family faces as bubbles
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk
| Credit: Illustration by Hanna Barczyk

Being sick is never fun, especially around the holidays. If it seems like the winter months are particularly rough in your office or your kids' school, you're right. "Colder temperatures certainly aid in germ survival, and influenza transmission has been linked to temperature and, perhaps more important, humidity," explains Richard Webby, Ph.D., a member of the department of infectious diseases at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. "While viruses aren't necessarily getting stronger, some flu seasons are worse than others, and it's hard to predict." For that reason, an ounce of prevention makes the best medicine. Getting a yearly flu shot is the single biggest recommendation from Webby. The second? Rest. Go back to bed if you're sick, and the same goes for your kiddos. These additional four tips may help prevent diseases from traveling through your home like wildfire.

Wash Hands the Right Way

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 20 seconds is the sweet spot, ideally, using soap and water, but hand sanitizer will also do the trick. Always avoid putting your hands near your nose, mouth, and eyes. Use Clorox, Lysol, or vinegar to disinfect objects and surfaces (like phones, counters, keyboards, doorknobs, and switch plates) that may have been exposed to someone who is sick. "The flu is a bit of a wimp in the microbial world and is readily inactivated this way," says Webby.

Sharing Is Not Caring

It may be obvious not to use the same fork as a friend, but drinks, straws, and lip balms shouldn't be passed around either. Swapping saliva increases your likelihood of getting sick, and it's possible to spread the flu before symptoms develop so don't share even if you feel fine.

Break Up Your Brushes

Does everybody in the family keep their toothbrushes in the same holder? Not a good idea when the cold or flu strikes since germs can get stuck in the bristles. Store brushes in separate spots if you can; if not, quarantine the sick family member's brush and then dispose of it (or the head if it's an electric toothbrush) once they're no longer contagious (up to five to seven days after becoming sick).

Boost Your Immune System

According to Webby, once you're infected with the cold or a flu virus, there's not much you can do to stop it. "But the better condition you're in, the better chance you have to ward off an infection in the first place," he says. Eating healthy, staying hydrated with beverages like water and tea, and getting enough sleep will help reduce the chances of becoming sick if you get infected by any germs you come in contact with.