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Don't let the flu bug you this year

(BPT) - Flu season is upon us, and many healthcare facilities are urging you to start preparing now with vaccines. Ironically, one of the places where you need to be careful is at the doctor's office or healthcare clinic.

The number of people in and out of clinics this time of year increases the chance that someone will leave behind a harmful pathogen. Being in close proximity with people who may already have the flu can put you and your family at risk. You can reduce this risk by following some simple instructions from healthcare cleaning experts.

"Healthcare-acquired infections can be a threat to everyone, especially the elderly and young children," said Steve Zimmerman, director of healthcare services for ServiceMaster Clean, one of the nation's leading cleaning and janitorial service providers. "Most facilities do a good job of sanitizing their waiting areas, but sick people can spread their illnesses through the touch of a door, magazine or pen - leaving you vulnerable to pick up germs you can't see."

The Centers for Disease Control estimate that 9 million to 35 million people will get the flu each year, 140,000 to 710,000 will be hospitalized because of it, and 12,000 to 56,000 will die from the illness. The CDC recommends a vaccination each year for those six months of age and older.

While the vaccine may help protect you from the flu, cleaning experts urge everyone to avoid high-touch areas as much as possible.

What are high-touch areas? In a healthcare setting, Zimmerman defines high-touch surfaces as anything that multiple people will likely touch during their visit. Some high-touch surfaces are hard to avoid, such as door handles and chair armrests. That's why it's wise to wash hands often and use hand sanitizer when necessary. But there are other high-touch areas you can avoid, such as:

* Magazines. These are nearly impossible to disinfect once they have been contaminated. Don't pick them up while you're waiting.

* Toys. Bring your own toys to help prevent your child from picking up an illness from another child.

* Restrooms. They can harbor lots of pathogens unless cleaned often. If you must go, limit touching surfaces in the restroom, wash your hands thoroughly and use hand sanitizer if it's available.

* Ink pens. Think about how many hands touch the ink pens in facilities - whether signing in or filling out paperwork, bring your own and eliminate the possibility of sharing germs.

* Coffee urns. For many Americans, coffee is a must. If you pick up a coffee pot or stop in your favorite coffee shop, take hand sanitizer with you and use immediately after you pour a cup.

Zimmerman also points out that if you schedule visits for the early morning, you are less likely to contract the germs that typically accumulate, since cleaning crews often perform a deep clean at the end of each day.

Posted 12:09 PM

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