This flu season has been serious and seemingly endless. Families who have had the flu go through all the members of their household are even seeing the other strand come through weeks later. If you're not completely homebound and isolated, it seems inevitable that the flu will strike your home at some point, and it can take weeks to get over. Many parents are wondering if there is anything they can do to prevent the onset of flu, even if they've been exposed. So, how long can the flu live in your house? As it turns out, it's probably longer than you think.
According to The New York Times, most flu viruses can live for one to two days on nonporous surfaces (like plastic, metal, or wood) and eight to 12 hours on porous surfaces (like clothing or paper). But more recent strains of the flu virus seem to be stronger and hardier than past strains. For instance, the avian flu has been found to survive up to six days. As the virus evolves, its rate of survival outside of the body may increase. Typically, flu viruses can only survive on skin for a couple of minutes, but given the amount of times you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth in that time, the infection has plenty of time to spread.
As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), regular cleaning can help to stop the flu virus from spreading throughout your home and prevent onset of the infection (though there are no guarantees that it will). Most common household cleaners can effectively kill the flu virus, too, like chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, soap, iodine-based antiseptics, and alcohol. Heat above 165 degrees Fahrenheit can also kill the flu, so washing your kids' school clothes in warm or hot water or tumbling them in the dryer is an easy way to prevent those school germs from spreading through your home.
Humidity can also play a big role on how long the flu survives inside your home, according to CNN. The lower the humidity levels in your home, the better chance the flu virus has of surviving. Ensuring that your home's humidity level is about 40 to 60 percent can help to prevent those germs from lingering in the air and on surfaces. Obviously that's no easy feat in the winter, when the air is so dry it cracks your skin, but cool mist humidifiers can help.
If you are taking care of sick little ones (or are sick yourself), be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning their clothes, toys, or handling their used tissues or diapers. Scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds is said to effectively reduce the amount of flu germs on your hands, noted CBS News. (It's probably a good idea to clean the actual liquid soap bottle every now and then, too.) Switch out hand towels often, and wash them with hot water. Be sure to disinfect popular kid items, like tablets, remotes, and toys, more often when your kiddos are sick — they're easy to forget about, but can carry a host of those long-living viruses (especially because most devices are used more often when kids are sick).
It seems rather likely that doing all of these things will not prevent the flu from hitting or spreading through your home this year. With such widespread reach, this year's flu has been an anomaly. But being vigilant about disinfecting and spending some time instilling good hygiene practices in your kids can only help. This year's flu is intense, but even if it does hit your home, some sound common sense practices will hopefully keep it from coming back again.
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