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5 Things You Should Know: Germ Fighting

How can you keep bacteria at bay?
How can you keep bacteria at bay?
TLC

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Americans catch roughly 1 billion colds each year, and families spend more than $3 billion in over-the-counter cold relief annually. Sound familiar?.

Germs breed faster than bunnies. In less than 24 hours one single bacteria cell can multiply to more than 8 million -- and it only takes 10 bacteria cells to make you sick. Keep them at bay with five germ-fighting tips, beginning first with how to smartly disinfect around your home.

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While many of us think a clean house is a germ-free house, it turns out we don't need to scrub from floor to ceiling to keep the microbes away. Instead, aim to spot clean the germ havens in your home once a week or more. Handles of all sorts, for example, are germ factories. A Hygiene Council survey found that kitchen and bathroom faucet handles carried thousands of bacteria per square inch, more than 13,000 bacteria per square inch in the kitchen and about 6,000 in the bathroom.

You don't need to be obsessive, but a good suggestion is to clean everything you use regularly with disinfectant sprays or wipes. A few examples: Phones, remote controls, light switches, computer keyboards and handles (including faucets, toilets, cabinets, doorknobs and the refrigerator). And don't forget the big dirty stuff, like trash cans.

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One simple way to build a barrier against germs is to drink water. Good hydration keeps mucous membranes moist. Mucous membranes are a protective lining inside such places as our nose and sinuses, and when they're kept moist they help to block germs from entering your body through your eyes, nose and mouth. Allowed to dry out, these membranes can lead to headaches, dry noses, throats and mouths, cramps and fatigue, which leaves your body open to germ invasion.

Not all beverages are created equal, though. Alcohol, coffee and soda may actually have the opposite, dehydrating effect, so sip water throughout the day to keep the bugs away.

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Something as innocuous as a kitchen sponge could be the breeding ground for your family's next cold. Kitchen sponges are go-to spill cleaners, and because of that have been found to carry more than 134,000 bacteria per square inch, including Salmonella and Campylobacter, both of which cause foodborne illnesses.

What can you do? Replace sponges every week or give them frequent and thorough cleanings. Disinfect sponges in the dishwasher or soak them in a one-part bleach to nine-parts water solution. Or, nuke them: In a study done at the University of Florida, researchers found that 99 percent of bacteria, viruses, parasites and spores living in a kitchen sponge could be killed with a two-minute, full-power zap in the microwave.

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While sanitizers aren't meant to replace a good scrub with soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, usually foams or gels, don't require water to use and are a convenient way to keep your hands germ-free when you're on the go.

Be sure you're using a disinfectant that gets the job done: choose a product that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to be sure it has the power to kill bacteria and viruses. Use about 1/2 teaspoon of sanitizer (or enough to get your hands wet) and rub hands together until they feel dry, which should take more than 10 to 15 seconds according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Keeping our hands clean may be one of the most powerful tools we have against germs. Think about all the surfaces you touch during the day, everything from doorknobs to toilets to other people's hands. If you increase the number of times you wash your hands to seven times a day, you could reduce your yearly colds by about 40 percent.

It's important to wash your hands correctly, and that's not just a quick rinse. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the proper way to wash is to wet your hands with warm water, lather up with soap and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds -- the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to yourself. And don't forget to clean under your fingernails where germs can hide.

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