Now that the cold and flu season is coming round again, should we be more hygienic? The World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of all virus infections worldwide are caused by poor hygiene. The biggest concern is inadequate hand washing. So which practices work, and how can you strike a balance between careful and obsessive?
Most colds and flu are spread by viral droplets in coughs and sneezes or by viral particles being left on a surface, picked up on fingers and introduced into the body through the eyes, mouth or nose. Viruses and bacteria that cause vomiting and diarrhoea are also spread by hands.
Keep your hands as germ-free as possible by washing them thoroughly using warm water and soap - these are more effective than just using sanitised sprays. The recommended technique involves rubbing palms together, interlocking hands and washing carefully between the fingers for 20 seconds.
You should wash your hands at the flimsiest excuse to protect yourself and others, but especially after sneezing or coughing into your hands, going to the toilet, petting a dog, gardening, changing a nappy, preparing uncooked food, handling rubbish and taking care of anyone who is sick. Dry your hands thoroughly or the viruses and bacteria cling on.
If your child keeps coming home from school with tummy bugs or colds, check they are washing their hands. A survey by Initial Hygiene of 50 children in the UK aged seven to 11 found that 40% said they didn't wash their hands with soap after using the toilet, and three-quarters didn't do so before meals.
Don't leave used hankies or tissues lying around. If someone in the house has a cold, wash communal surfaces such as door handles with hot soapy water or antibacterial cleaner. Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and eyes.
You also may want to choose kissing over hand shaking as a form of greeting during the winter months (ideally air kissing). Surveys reportedly show that shaking hands transfers germs very effectively.