Like it or not, winter is upon us. Soon, the temperatures outside will be nearer the 30s than the 60s, and we’ll be carting out more than just jackets as hats, scarves and gloves quickly will become required attire. Of course, for many people runny noses, sore throats, coughs and even the flu tend to follow cold weather, as well. Put these two things together and you have a very, very good chance of spreading lots of germs around unintentionally. Sure, you wash your hands and use that all-important hand sanitizer religiously, but what about that scarf you used to cover your mouth when you coughed a few minutes ago or that pair of gloves you had on when your runny nose was itching this morning? Not a pleasant thought, for sure, but one that we all need to consider this season.
“If you just happen to rub your nose with gloved hands, those germs are going to get on anything you touch afterwards,” said Mary Kathryn Cockrill from Blount Memorial’s infection control team sharing information from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). “Then, if a person near you touches the same things you did, they have a very good chance of picking up those germs, which is known as cross-contamination. While there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to support this, it makes sense if you think about it. Gloves and scarves are just as likely to carry germs as any other fabrics that haven’t been cleaned,” she said. “In fact, gloves and scarves are less likely to be appropriately washed on a regular basis than nearly every other type of clothing we have,” she added.
For this reason, Cockrill says, we all should take steps this winter to prevent the spread of germs, not only on our hands, but also on our winter clothing. “Sometimes, cleaning gloves and scarves can seem like a pain, generally because they’re often of wool or leather and cannot be casually tossed in the washer and dryer,” she said. “But, when we consider how germy those things can get through regular use, it’s an absolute must that we clean them as often as we can, preferably once each week or whenever you notice that they appear soiled. Additionally, there are some general steps you can take to stay healthy this winter. First, clean your hands often. This is the most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of infections. Also, carry tissues and hand sanitizer with you at all times,” she explained. “Definitely try to avoid touching your eyes, face, nose or mouth with your hands to help keep infections out of your body,” she added.
As for those scarves and gloves, Cockrill says there are some common sense things to remember. “Take your gloves off when you’re using objects or things that other people use, such as shopping carts, ATMs and crosswalk buttons, then wash your hands or use sanitizer immediately. Remember, it’s easier to wash your hands than it is to wash your gloves,” she said. “When you take your gloves off, loosen them at the fingertips, and remove them with your other hand rather than taking them off with your teeth or your mouth. Also, if your gloves get wet or dirty, don’t shove them into your coat pockets. They’ll need to dry thoroughly to kill any germs. Additionally, remember to get a flu shot every year, and try to avoid people who have a respiratory or stomach virus. If you happen to be the one who gets sick, stay home from work to avoid spreading the illness to others,” she explained. “And, as always, try to cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your gloves or scarf. Taking advantage of these simple steps can help keep you and those around you as healthy as possible this winter,” she added.