It was just like any other weekly Target run… I buckled my baby into the shopping cart and stepped a few feet away to grab a handful of disinfectant wipes to vigorously wipe down the cart per usual. As I turned around with both fists full of wipes I saw my sweet little girl stick out her tongue and in what seemed to be slow motion, lick the handle of the cart from end to end. Rebelliously, she stared me down and drug her tiny pink tongue over the sticky handprints, the dried sneezes, a partially peeled off sticker and what looked like what could have been part of an old dirty Band-Aid. Frozen, heart pounding, head spinning, tears forming, I stared at my little girl in disbelief as she giggled at her recent accomplishment. Should I leave? Should I wash out her mouth? Should I take her to the emergency room? Call the CDC? All these questions ran through my mind and that was the moment I realized… I was a germaphobe and I was out of control!
Now, before you begin to think I’m crazy, I am immunocompromised so I do need to be careful with germs. Even so, I had never been too concerned with germs until the day my 8lb 1oz bundle of joy made her debut into the world during the October upward swing of cold and flu season. I was not only concerned for my new baby but shortly after she was born I was diagnosed with C. Difficile; a horrible intestinal infection that felt like a combination of a bad stomach flu and a terrible hangover that often left me curled up in a ball next to her boppy pillow. During this 2 ½ month long illness, I developed an uncontrollable phobia of getting so sick that I would not be able to take care of my new baby. That fear quickly escalated into full fledge germaphobia.
As the years have passed, along with colds, fevers and even nasty stomach bugs, my germaphobia has seemed to slightly subside. Mind you, I am still more careful than the average adult but I no longer incessantly fill my mind with the cesspool of potential diseases floating around. I have succumbed to the fact that there is nothing I can do about that .01% of germs sanitizer can’t kill! And along with my germaphobia came A LOT of research to which I adopted a few useful habits that cut out at least a few bugs every year.
1. Use outdoor shopping carts – UV rays kill the germs!
Shopping carts are gross and much dirtier than most people realize and though most stores with shopping carts offer disinfecting wipes the reality is that most of us aren’t using them correctly. In order to actually disinfect the handle, the surface needs to be wetted completely with the wipe and left wet for up to four minutes to actually disinfect. Most of us don’t have the time or patience for that so instead of dousing the handles with chemicals that inevitably end up in your child’s mouth, let the UV rays from the sun kill the germs for you! A biochemist that lives in our neighborhood taught me this trick and I love it. Great advice!
2. Don’t rely solely on sanitizer. Wipe, then sanitize.
These days nearly all of us Mom’s carry sanitizer in our purse but we tend to rely on it too much! The reality is that while sanitizer kills many harmful germs, it doesn’t kill nasty stomach bugs such as norovirus or C. Difficile – hand washing is the only weapon against these and a handful of other viruses and bacteria. However, there isn’t always a location to properly wash our child’s hands. A trick I use is to thoroughly moisten and wipe my daughter’s hands using baby wipes – wiping from fingers to palm to remove germs. Then, apply and rub in sanitizer until it is dry, being sure to pay special attention to fingernails and fingertips. That should protect your child from most common germs until you can get to some soap and a sink!
3. Keep Fingertips Clean!
“Don’t put your fingers in your mouth” is a phrase that I find myself saying numerous times everyday (not only to my daughter but to my husband as well)! Of course it is always a good idea to keep your fingers out of the mouth, nose and eyes as that is how germs often enter the system but anyone with a toddler knows that isn’t always realistic. A few things I have taught my toddler to do to keep those fingertips clean is to always use the back of her hand or her knuckles to press elevator buttons, pop machine buttons, handicap door buttons, etc. Make a habit of trying to keep fingertips off of publicly used surfaces so that when that little goldfish cracker gets thrown into their mouth, the nasty germs on those surfaces won’t go with it!
4. Wash hands as soon as you get home!
Hand washing is THE most important way to stop illness from spreading, but did you know that most people don’t actually wash their hands correctly? Soap should be moistened with water after it is applied, scrubbed firmly together for 20-30 seconds (or through the ABC’s) creating a lot of bubbles, and then rinsed thoroughly. The bubbles trap the germs and rinsing thoroughly actually removes the germs from your hands to the drain. For every 15 seconds you wash your hands 10x more bacteria is removed! My family has made a habit of washing our hands as soon as we walk in the door, which may be the reason why our daughter has been singing her ABC’s since before she was 2 years old!
5. Change hand towels in the bathroom frequently.
Even though you may wash your hands well, others probably don’t. They wipe their germy hands on the same towel you wipe your clean hands on leaving them possibly dirtier than what they initially were! ISH! So, change it frequently. If you are at someone’s home, use the part of the hand towel that is least likely to have been used by others such as where the fold hangs on the towel bar or the back of the towel.
While I am still careful and conscious about germs, I have become much more grounded on what I can control and what I can’t. That is until the movie “Contagion” eventually finds its way to Netflix or the next superbug surfaces to which you’ll find me masked, gowned and gloved while grocery shopping! Just kidding… sort of.