Winter enjoyment tips for germophobes
January 14, 2014 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Every year I dread cold weather, mostly for norovirus-related reasons. Especially since it seems media reports about norovirus outbreaks, flu deaths, etc. have increased over the last few years. It's all I can do to go to work and social events during the week (barely--I probably won't eat food prepared in a strange kitchen or where I notice a lack of handwashing). You could not pay me to get on an airplane or visit a nursing home this time of year. Lately all I want to do is burrow into my apartment with herbal tea and bleach wipes, but life demands that I go to parties, spend time in public, etc.

So winter happens every year, and I want to learn to deal with it and adopt something like nonchalance towards seasonal illnesses. How can I enjoy cold weather and forget the threat of norovirus (etc.)? How do most people "do" winter without obsessive handwashing? Any examples of healthy attitudes w/r/t sickness, or suggestions for fun habits/little treats I can throw into my routine until spring would be welcome. Anecdotes involving children would also be welcome, as I'm trying really hard not to flip out around my boyfriend's kids.

This isn't SAD-related, by the way. But I do have general anxiety issues, in addition to emetophobia, which I'm aware of and working on. So please, no suggestions to see a therapist.
posted by magdalemon to Health & Fitness (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've stockpiled these and carry one with wherever I go. I would sooner look a bit silly without the flu than be layed up for a week while looking like one of the cool kids.
posted by banal evil at 1:41 PM on January 14, 2014

So please, no suggestions to see a therapist.

Oh. That was going to be my suggestion.

You realise I'm sure that your fear is pretty irrational, right? Are you actually afraid of dying? Are you in some way immuno-compromised, very old or weakened in some other fashion? Cuz otherwise your risk of dying from an influenza virus is pretty minimal.

I caught norovirus while on holiday over the New Year. It kinda sucked, but it was nowhere near the end of the world. The worst effect was that it set me back in my marathon training. Oh, and although I shared towels and foods with the rest of the household until I showed symptoms, none of them caught it.

You're actually putting yourself more at risk by refusing to expose yourself to a healthy dose of germs.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 1:41 PM on January 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

First, you need to remember that the increase in news reports is largely the result of the cursed 24-hour news cycle. You're familiar with the phrase "If it bleeds, it leads", right? You're much better off not watching the news.

As for the lack of hand washing...There's a lot of thought now that over-washing, sanitizing and disinfecting is actually lowering our natural resistance to infections.

When I was a kid, since we didn't have the full bag of inoculations available today, it was relatively common practice for mothers to send their kids to a friend's house if that friend happened to come down with something there wasn't a shot for. The thinking was that this would work to build resistance, one way or another. I don't recall there being a die-off of 5-year-olds in my neighborhood.

Getting sick is natural. Normal. Expected. Human.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You might want to ask your therapist for ideas, too, because this sounds pretty extreme.

As someone who also has some anxiety and germophobe issues I keep a hand sanitizer on my desk, keep my gloves on when out in public, get a flu shot, and wash my hands a little more often (but try to pay attention and check myself if I haven't really touched anything since the last time I washed them). Otherwise I try to enjoy winter.
posted by ldthomps at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Can you cultivate your denial skills? They can come in really handy for things like this.

Over the last decade-ish, I think I've known exactly one person local to me who's come down with norovirus. Yes, it's relatively common, yes, it's quite transmissable....but (knock wood) I have yet to acquire it, and almost none of the people I see regularly have gotten it.

As for non-noro viruses: They're unpleasant, but unless you're immune-compromised, it's a few days of achy sniffly blehhhhh. It's not going to kill you and it's not going to lay you up for more than a couple days, and it's really just not a big deal. Repeat that to yourself.

Also, at parties and things, you can *always* decline to shake hands/hug/kiss - just say "Oh, I felt kind of sniffly this morning, and it's probably nothing but just to be safe! Ha ha!" Nobody's ever batted an eye when I've used something like that to avoid physical social niceties.
posted by rtha at 1:43 PM on January 14, 2014

Response by poster: I should note that I am keenly aware that this is irrational. A good antidote to irrational thoughts/fears, in my experience, has been to check out "normal" attitudes and behaviors--so I wanted to hear how a "normal" person approaches winter.

E.g. statements like "I caught norovirus while on holiday over the New Year. It kinda sucked, but it was nowhere near the end of the world." Those are super helpful in counteracting my doom-n-gloom self-talk.
posted by magdalemon at 1:46 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Last January I caught The Worst Cold Ever TM. I was pretty miserable for almost two weeks, which is waaay longer than I usually have a cold for. But I was still relatively functional (there was a work thing I had to travel for, so I did); I took OTC drugs, I drank all the tea, I slept whenever I could, I bummed some codeine cough syrup from a friend with the same horror. And I watched a lot of dumb TV and read. And then I was fine!

Ditto with my friend who just a week or so ago came down with norovirus. She complained briefly on fb, and then it was cat pictures and buzzfeed links and now she's at some big gun show in Vegas.

There's a few perhaps-sickies in my office right now. I'm washing my hands and trying to remember to not touch my face alla time, and otherwise - well, if I get a cold, I will drink tea and nap and watch dumb TV. So not the worst thing ever!
posted by rtha at 1:51 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was going to offer you my (only) noro anecdote, which starts with my toddler daughter feeling crummy immediately prior to an overseas trip a year ago December, and ends with me getting a full dose of cosmic comeuppance for feeling smug because everyone (spouse & 3 kids) had gotten sick but me. I'll spare you the details of why we strongly suspect our photo was circulated amongst local B&B proprietors that winter. For a few hours one evening, it was fucking god-awful. I dragged myself to bed with a bottle of water and succumbed to sweet oblivion.

And the next day, I got up, had a cup of tea, and spent the entire day wandering the churches and streets of Prague, and it was not just fine, it was awesome. Winter is a fantastic time of year to be outside, to wander around, and to NOT give in to the temptation to hide indoors from whatever it is we hide from. Sure: wash your hands. Treat your body right. Get good rest, & get a flu shot. Viruses happen. You cannot ziploc yourself away from the world, and who the hell would want to?
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 2:02 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's my approach to avoiding getting sick:

1. Um, I dunno.

I probably don't wash my hands as often as I should, I rarely use hand sanitizer, I touch my face too much, and I have no problem grabbing a railing or picking up a common telephone. This year was the first year I've ever gotten the flu shot because I have a fear of needles. I also have a job that puts me face to face with the public for much of the day.

That said, I almost never get sick. Maybe a cold once a year, and I had a pretty yucky 24-hour stomach bug in the summer 2 or 3 years ago.

Your (excessive, in my view) precautions and limitations also don't protect you as well as you think they do. The worst case of food poisoning in my family's memory was almost certainly contracted from some fresh Buffalo mozzarella at a high-end restaurant in Milan, Italy.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:05 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

so I wanted to hear how a "normal" person approaches winter

They get a flu shot. No really. That is the only difference between Winter and Summer when it comes to my behavioral changes affecting me getting sick. The things I do year round include washing my hands after using the bathroom and before I eat and not making out with sick people. Other than that I really just go about my day.

I had norovorius in 2012. It sucked balls. For two days. After that I was hungry and weak from not eating for two days but had no other lasting effects. If I get a cold or the flu I just stay home for a day or two and watch crap TV and cuddle with my puppy. He quite likes it if I'm sick because I don't get off the couch.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:06 PM on January 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

I get really sick at least once every winter. Always have. I'm nursing a head cold right now. Last year I got norovirus, and it was close to the worst, but it was all over in like 3 days and then I was fine.

I look at getting sick kind of like a mini vacation. I can excuse myself guilt free from the gym, drag the comforter down to the couch, snuggle on the sofa with a box of tissues, drink some tea. People send you funny cat pictures to cheer you up*.

To me getting sick in the winter is kind of like snow or getting dark early. It's not my favorite thing, but it would seem odd if it didn't happen, you know?

*Memail me if you get sick and I will send you cat pictures.
posted by JoanArkham at 2:07 PM on January 14, 2014 [8 favorites]

Try to eat foods that are generally considered "immune boosting". That's a good preventive measure. Get good, quality sleep to help with that, too. Then, keep your hands away from your face - no rubbing your eyes or picking your nose or chewing your fingernails. Follow all of ldthomps' suggestions - they're great. Wash your hands when you come into your home (I literally take my shoes off and walk straight for the sink).

My job requires me to hang out with a lot of people who have no real ability (due to access issues) to maintain good personal hygiene, don't have great access to health care, and who often have terrible colds and the like. I generally get a cold or two per year and I can almost always attribute it to the hands-on-the-face thing. I have three children who.. are children. (I may have referred to them as "germ factories" at various points in time.)

I avoid getting too close to sick people - avoiding hugs and handshakes by claiming that I think I'm coming down with something, like rtha suggested. I hold my breath when I'm walking through a 'cough cloud' where someone hasn't covered their mouth.

Hand sanitizer works if you use an appropriate amount (more than most people do) when you can't get to a sink/water to wash.

One other big thing - encourage your friends to tell you if they're feeling under the weather. Be cool about cancellations if someone says they've got a cold! Let them know that you'd rather reschedule than get sick.
posted by VioletU at 2:09 PM on January 14, 2014

Like others here have already said, a "normal" person gets a flu shot every Sept/Oct (in the US), and wears gloves in the winter, and washes their hands before eating, and takes a Vitamin D supplement, and drinks tea, and gets some exercise, and eats their fruits and veggies.
posted by hush at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way I see it is, sometimes people get sick because that is what bodies do. I try to always have stuff on hand in winter so that I don't need to trek outside for advil, or robitussin, or kleenex, or tea. It's not exactly a superstition, just a way to feel prepared.

I work from home. I rarely see anyone, rarely go anywhere, and the weather has been so awful this year that actually, most of the seasonal parties were called off. (Note, this was not some sort of intentional plan; just how my lifestyle is right now.) Perfect, right? Like being in Ziploc. No risk of getting sick this year, right?

Well, guess who's got Whooping Cough? No, I have no idea how I got it. Best guess is my boyfriend caught a mild version at work and it hit me wayyyy harder. So it goes. It's not fun, it's gonna take a while to clear up, and sometimes I get a little frustrated and cabin fever-y. But at least I got all this tea and kleenex, yeah?

This stuff is the price we pay for being close to other human beings, and all told, seems to be worth it so far.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:16 PM on January 14, 2014

Seconding the notion of news coverage being bad for your health. For a parallel example, look at actual crime vs crime reporting
  • Between 1990 and 1999, the major networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) devoted more coverage to crime than any other topic on their nightly national newscasts. On local television news, crime consumed 30% of all news time, displacing coverage of other pressing issues. In comparison to crime, topics like government (11%), health (7%), education (4%), and poverty (2%) receive far less attention.
  • The rate of violent crime in the United States began its decade-long decline in 1992.
  • In the news, when crime victims are depicted, they are typically white, female, and affluent. In fact, young men of color-especially those living in poor and urban areas-experience the highest rates of victimization, and white females report the lowest.
My takeaway: crime is really, really poorly reported. It might as well be celebrity news, for its reflection of the world at large.

Now look at statistics for norovirus: Each year on average in the United States, norovirus
  • causes 19–21 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines or both)
  • leads to 1.7–1.9 million outpatient visits and 400,000 emergency department visits, primarily in young children
  • contributes to about 56,000–71,000 hospitalizations and 570-800 deaths, mostly among young children and the elderly
Emphasis mine. That same page notes that health care facilities are the most common place to catch a norovirus, while private homes are pretty benign.

My takeaway: lots of people get sick, a few people pretty badly, and very, very few die. Those that do already are at risk to everything else swirling around in the mix of humanity. But because death is the "bloodiest" of the things that bleed (especially for an annual event, which really isn't that bad but is more of a nuisance), news coverage will latch on to the annual flu deaths, without reminding you that death is part of life, and those that died were a lot more susceptible than the general public.

Yes, you'll be the safest from the flu by staying at home, but you'll miss out on a lot more. And if you keep yourself too clean, as others have noted, your body won't get a chance to fight off things and keep you healthier on the whole.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

so I wanted to hear how a "normal" person approaches winter

I second everyone else on the flu shot, regular amount of handwashing, avoiding people who look actively contagious/sick, etc. Also, I'm a firm believer in the magical properties of sleep, so if I feel myself starting to get the slightest bit sick (achy, sniffly, etc.), I do my best to sleep for 9+ hours that night.

I also take it as a given that I will get sick at least once every winter, and prepare accordingly. Accepting that really reduces the amount of brainspace I give over to worrying about getting sick.
posted by yasaman at 2:21 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

"I should note that I am keenly aware that this is irrational. A good antidote to irrational thoughts/fears, in my experience, has been to check out "normal" attitudes and behaviors--so I wanted to hear how a "normal" person approaches winter."

Here's what I do: I basically live my life the same as I would any season, but if I find myself feeling sick, or around sick people, I BABY the heck out of myself...I'm talking couch, blanket, TV, soup, ice cream, vitamins/Airborn/Zicamat the slightest sniffle the moment I get home from work (or will take the take off if actually sick)

I used to catch a bunch of colds every winter. Then I moved to NYC and for years later I hardly ever got sick...I chocked it up to riding the subway every day and building my immune system up.

I hardly ever use hand sanitizer.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2014

How do most people "do" winter without obsessive handwashing?

I am, I think, a "normal" person. I get a flu shot. I ride the subway to and from work every day. I put my bare hands on the poles.

I wash my hands after I use the bathroom. I typically wash my hands before eating at home, but I'm spotty otherwise, especially snacking at my desk.

I'm taking "extra" precautions this flu season--meaning I use the antibacterial gunk in the lobby of my office when I get to work, and I wash my hands when I get home after the subway.

I don't generally use the antibacterial gunk any other time, and we don't use antibacterial soap.

I'll eat something off the floor if I drop it. I don't take any supplements, but I eat healthy. I don't tend to eat out often these days, but food prep is not a concern of mine. I'd share a bottle or a glass with a friend (I'd trust them not to be actively sick while sharing), and I have no issues with eating something from a buffet or a platter, etc.

I'm hardly ever sick, and I really never worry--or even think--about getting sick. I spend much more time worrying about my Netflix queue.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:24 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

My baby came down with norovirus at 12 months old, for him, being so young it was an immediate trip to the ER and 8 hours of non stop vomiting - on me mostly. He then gave it to my husband, who had a pretty bad weekend. Me though, who was in my first trimester of pregnancy with lowered immunity and was literally covered in the virus, I got nothing. No amount of hand washing would have saved me at that point and I still didn't get it. Thank god too because with all of us out we would have been royally screwed.

But my point is, why assume you'll even get it, and when you do, it just doesn't last that long, then you're fine. Letting this ruin your winter is a far bigger deal than a virus ever will be.
posted by Jubey at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have OCD, and some of what you're describing sounds like what I go through from time to time. (I fixate on different scary things, though.) You've probably already heard a million reasons why you shouldn't fear flu season or norovirus, and even if you totally agree with them, your brain is probably still freaking out about the exceptions and what-ifs. Anxiety disorders are fun like that.

When my fear of something specific gets out of hand, it helps me to tell myself, "This scary thing hasn't happened to me yet. It happens to very, very few people at all. It did not happen to me yesterday. It will not happen to me today. It will probably never happen. If it does happen, I'll deal with it then. That's all I can do."

I also sometimes ask myself if I think the same thing will happen to Joey Stranger on the street - like, if I'm in a crowd, I'll glance at random people and ask myself if they're just as likely to suffer Scary Thing as I fear I am. Weirdly, the answer is usually no. This doesn't always work for me, but it's surprising how often it does.

A couple anecdotes: first, I have a cousin who was totally nonchalant about letting her toddler eat stuff that had fallen in dirt. "It's good for her immune system," was my cousin's explantion. That was ten years ago and that dirt-eating kid is totally healthy. Second, though I'm usually pretty healthy, I've gotten my share of crummy ailments over the years. I've gotten the flu, I've probably gotten norovirus, I've definitely gotten food poisoning. This last spring, I got a MRSA infection, which is one of the media's absolute favorite you're-gonna-die ailments. I made a full recovery from everything. None of them were much fun, but I got over them. For just about every illness that exists, you will have plenty of time to see a doctor and get treated.

Oh, also, my husband recently got the flu (or a very flu-like virus) despite getting this year's flu shot. He is also fine. I somehow didn't get it, despite being around him all the time. No matter how many precautions you do or don't take, getting a contagious disease is still a crapshoot. You just have to save the worrying for when it happens.
posted by Metroid Baby at 2:34 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I should add that my wife had the norovirus that went around Boston in November of 2013, and I didn't catch it, and I think my only precautions were not sharing plates and cups with her, and washing my hands after cleaning up her vomit.

Again, I worry more about Netflix than about getting sick, and I think that's more or less normal.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:45 PM on January 14, 2014

Along with a flu shot, you should talk to your doctor about getting a TDaP vaccine - your childhood one may have worn off. This protects you from tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis (whooping cough.)
posted by punchtothehead at 2:47 PM on January 14, 2014

If all of this doesn't help you, consider that every single one of your human ancestors, who number in let's say the hundreds of thousands, lived long enough to reproduce, and the vast majority of them lived long enough to care for their offspring. The number of your ancestors who lived with the benefit of modern medicine and germ theory could be counted on your fingers and toes alone.

I'm not saying modern medicine and germ theory and antibiotics and all the rest of it are worthless: they aren't, by a long shot. I'm just saying that you come from a long, long line of survivors, most of whom didn't have any of the advantages you have.
posted by gauche at 3:15 PM on January 14, 2014

Especially since it seems media reports about norovirus outbreaks, flu deaths, etc. have increased over the last few years

Nailed it!

Disease outbreaks aren't on the increase; breathless inflammatory stay-tuned-through-this-commercial-break-so-we-can-frighten-you-some-more news reports are what's on the increase.

The best way to assuage your fears is to wash your hands -- of TV news.
posted by ook at 3:16 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You sound a lot like me! I'm a germophobe, particularly Norwalk-virus-phobic, and do my bit of handwashing, though I wouldn't consider it obsessive any more. I rarely ever use hand sanitizer. My fears used to be way worse in the past, so even though I can't consider myself 'normal', I'll still answer your question in case it helps :).

A few years ago, I started paying close attention to how often I actually get sick. It's not often. I'll have a standard cold or two per year. I've had something Norwalk-like once in the last... seven years? Sure it sucks, but then it was over very quickly.

I eat out nearly every day, sometimes twice, and know for a fact that some of the places I go to are not super-sanitary. My trick is "what I don't see can't hurt me", so I look away when I might see something not up to my standards. It works. I don't recall if there was ever a time I'd gotten sick from eating out.

Same goes for visiting a clinic or a hospital. I used to be very wary of doing that, thinking I'd get something on the top of the complaint I'm coming with. In my dozens of visits over the last few years, however (and that's just since I started paying attention), I never did contract anything.

I rock climb in an indoors gym. That involves lots of people (kids included) touching the same holds and stepping on them, not all of those people being perfectly healthy. I would not pick up a sandwich and start eating it until I could wash my hands after the gym, and I (half-heartedly) try not to touch my face *too much* while I'm climbing, but that's about it for precautions, and I haven't contracted anything there either.

People around me have often complained that they are/were/are right now getting sick. I've been fine after sharing computers with them and spending all day in a small meeting room.

Yeah, I could get sick. 99% of the time I won't, though, and most of that other 1% amounts to a light cold.

We'll be fine!
posted by a friend of broken things at 3:19 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am maybe subnormal in that I am somewhat grubby, not a big handwasher. I am usually not sick and think I have a decent immune system. Everyone is different and I think the best advice people have given you has a lot to do with using past history (maybe when you weren't being so vigilant) to get an idea of your baseline heath.

Are you afraid of puking? Sometimes people who are flipped out by especially pukey diseases are worried more about the puking than being sick. If this is the case, there is medicine for this (though not a good idea if you really have norovirus but maybe calming for you otherwise? A few things I haven't seen mentioned or that bear repeating

- use a humidifier - cold viruses thrive in dryness. minimize it in your own house
- stay unstressed as much as possible. This means taking care of yourself and getting enough sleep, sun and exercise. Eat decently.
- if you think you are getting sick, isolate yourself and let it pass, baby yourself and keep things from getting worse

In general think: What am I really afraid of? Dying? Puking? Missing work? Needing someone to take care of you? Being stuck at home? Lasting GI problems? Many of these things can be approached logically which might help you when you're in panic mode. I totally feel your pain, I went for my flu shot later than usual one year and all I could think was that *I* was going the be the ironic flu death that could have been prevented if I'd only taken better care of myself. Anxiety is its own disease and make sure you're taking care of that as well.
posted by jessamyn at 3:33 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are 90% non-human cells by weight.

posted by Quisp Lover at 3:45 PM on January 14, 2014

I get REALLY sick once a year and I think of it as almost fun-- I can take sick days from work, lay in bed for a day or two (like I'm usually desperate to do anyway in mid-winter), watch movies, TV, live in my pyjamas, &c. Going back to work isn't as fun, but at least I get a mini-bed vacation.

When I feel myself getting sick I drink a big glass of Emergen-C every day (I don't really believe in it or whatever but it helps me be mindful about drinking hella clear fluids) and stock up on Sudafed.

Sudafed, as all medications, should not be abused, but damn if those couple days I take it for cold symptoms I don't feel well-rested and energetic. It's like the nice sleepy euphoric Nyquil feeling in reverse.

Two years ago I got some weird food poisoning/24-hour flu thing and I threw up constantly all night and it was miserable but I just tried to be like... present in the moment, and it helped. My boyfriend took care of me. When it was over, I got soup. Yum.

I don't wash my hands a lot. I love having a humidifier. I started getting a flu shot this year. That is all. I realize I could die from getting sick, but I could die from, y'know, crossing the street, so whatever. Yolo.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:46 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could not pay me to get on an airplane or visit a nursing home this time of year.

I don't believe you. You have a price, we all do :-p
Let's say I had a cold virus in a shotglass. Drink and you'll get a cold. You'll be sick for a couple of days, and feel kind of bleh for a few more days.
How much $$$ would I have to put on the table for you to drink the shot?
A week's wages?
A month's wages?
Wow, at that rate, being sick is a far far better use of your time than being at work. The smart thing to do is drink the shot.
So less than a month's wages then?

Me? I'd do it for less than a week's wages!

Seasonal colds come and go. They come, and they go, that last part makes them no big deal. Your worry is a worse punishment than the thing you're worrying about. So I just don't worry. I touch my face constantly. I wash my hands after the bathroom, but not after being around people unless they've warned me they're actually sick. I use hand rails. I get sick rarely. I like to get flu shots though - no point inviting the one flavor of trouble that is so easily avoided.
In general, I don't care or worry, and it works out great.
posted by anonymisc at 3:56 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are 90% non-human cells by weight

Citation, please. (Seriously. I am curious.)
posted by ocherdraco at 3:57 PM on January 14, 2014

I do have general anxiety issues, in addition to emetophobia, which I'm aware of and working on.

Everything you describe is an outgrowth of your anxiety issues. Dealing with this issue is intimately tied into your anxiety. They are not to separate things-- they are the same.

If it helps, I have never gotten norovirus. The last time I was laid up with something flu-like was 4 years ago. The time before that it was during the summer. It sucked but I got over it after a week and the prescription for tussinex to alleviate my cough made me feel So. Much. Better. For milder colds, DayQuil makes me feel like I'm fine. If I get a little nauseous because of something I ate, Pepto relieves the symptoms.

I don't think I've ever really had food poisoning, and nothing ever bad came from eating food made in someone else's home kitchen. I am not especially hygiene conscious, either-- I mean I wash my hands and bathe regularly, but I shake other people's hands and kiss people on the cheek without even thinking that this puts me at any kind of health risk. The way you deal with these things is you live your life, take some analgesics when you come down with something, get a good night's rest, and you keep going.
posted by deanc at 4:29 PM on January 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mother washes her hands all of the time. She uses hand sanitizer the rest of the time. We have moved tables at a restaurant because she though the server had a cold. Her doctor tells her to get a flu shot so she does. She wipes down shopping cart handles before using them. She NEVER opens public doors by grabbing the handle with her fingers -- she pushes them open with her hip or hooks the handle with the inside of her wrist to pull. Winter gives her an excuse to wear gloves all of the time.

I wash my hands occasionally. I have one unused bottle of hand sanitizer in my desk drawer. (Mom gave it to me.) I buy brown bags of soft pretzels from sketchy looking people on street corners. I skipped the flu shot this year because I couldn't be bothered. I hold onto handrails and doorknobs and seat handles on the train. I take public transportation and I only wear gloves when it's cold. And I'm a recovering nailbiter so for most of my life thus far, I've had my fingers in my mouth.

She and I get sick the exact same number of times each year. Which is, not a lot at all. A cold or two, and a big nasty thing in January/February once every few years. The big nasty illness is only a few days of blah, and I get over it. The colds are completely banal.

One of us lives a much calmer life because she doesn't worry. :)
posted by kimberussell at 5:14 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

You are 90% non-human cells by weight

Citation, please. (Seriously. I am curious.)

I am quite sure that this is by number (of cells), and most certainly not by weight.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:42 PM on January 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

That would make more sense, though I am still skeptical.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:40 PM on January 14, 2014

I think the benefit of washing before eating is overrated. What you want to do is keep unwashed fingers out of your nose and eyes. Besides airborne stuff, that's the main vector for flu. Maybe not so for norovirus, others would need to comment on that.
posted by Dansaman at 12:35 AM on January 15, 2014

I'm sure I'm not as petrified of vomiting as you are, but I strongly dislike it and can count on the fingers of one hand how many times it's happened in the last decade. I am strongly avoidant.

However, I work in a UK hospital and in the winter, we get norovirus outbreaks. My job is such that I am still expected to visit the patients in those wards. In three years of full time work, this week is the first time I've been off work sick (other than one day when I went home sick with a bad cold). I think I probably picked it up from a quarantined ward on Friday, I started feeling weird Saturday night and Sunday I mostly slept. By today I'm feeling a lot better but I can't go back to work for 2 days because I could still be infectious. It's not been as bad as I thought it might be - more tedious than anything else even though I'm unambiguously sick.

I probably go on wards with some form of suspected infectious gastric illness once or twice a week over winter and this is the first time I've been ill. When I go in a ward like this I'll wear a disposable apron, disposable gloves and I'll wash my hands before and after, but that's it. If you're out in the general public your exposure will be much less frequent. I would say that avoiding touching your face and washing your hands frequently but not obsessively is very sensible.
posted by kadia_a at 1:05 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I, too, am terrified of norovirus and other throwing up type illnesses. I'm even afraid to be telling you that I haven't actually had it since 1995, in case I jinx myself and get it now. There, I said it! Let's hope I don't get it now.

So, what I do, from someone just as anxious as you: I wear gloves when commuting (normal woolly gloves, and I commute on trains twice a day), I wash my hands when coming in from outside and wash my hands before eating. That's about it. I don't have much contact with children, which I think helps a lot. The hand washing is not excessive, but I think I wash them more than most of the people I know.

What made me feel a lot better about norovirus was some guidance I read about how you can catch it - although it is highly contagious, hand washing is the key to avoiding it (as well as not being in the same room when someone is being sick). Anti-bac gels are useless against it, good old soap and water is best, making sure you rinse the soap off your hands (as the soap is what is helping to lift and carry away any nasties).
posted by tinwhiskers at 11:59 AM on January 15, 2014

A few years ago I got pneumonia and then, before the pneumonia had been diagnosed (there were Reasons for the delayed diagnosis) I got norovirus and ended up in the ER because I was throwing up blood and needed IV fluids (3L, I think) and IV anti-nausea medication. On my way from the car to the ER, I had to stop and throw up in the bushes outside (got some looks from the smokers on the opposite side of the door) and in the waiting room at the ER, I had to keep throwing up (in a very echoey bathroom) while I waited to be seen. (I do not have emetophobia but it was pretty unpleasant.) No idea where I caught either.

After another trip to the ER (I think my temp was 105 and that was what prompted me to go), they figured out the pneumonia and put me on IV antibiotics. 2 days after THAT I was back in the ER with an ear infection that burst later on that night and ruptured my eardrum. (Ew.)

I was out of work for a month, I lost 20 pounds and a lot of my hair, and I was weak enough that I had to sit down and rest going from the bedroom to the kitchen. But the long month being sick was kind of useful because I was SO sick that it put work stress stuff in perspective - just had to concentrate on breathing in and out, and in some ways it was almost like an emotional vacation and I felt like I got a fresh start. Plus people totally rallied around me at work and in my personal life and that was awesome. My hearing came back after a few months too.

tl;dr: of all the bad things that have happened to me in my life, that month is nowhere near the top 10. And it taught me not to take my health for granted as much and that my body is really able to heal well (with help from antibiotics.) And I'm really conscientious about getting annual flu shots now.
posted by data hound at 3:43 PM on January 15, 2014

Well, if you're looking for info on how a "normal" person preps for winter -

gets a flu shot every Sept/Oct (in the US), and wears gloves in the winter, and washes their hands before eating, and takes a Vitamin D supplement, and drinks tea, and gets some exercise, and eats their fruits and veggies.

Heck, some of us don't even do that.

I spent 2 weeks in December traveling (including a cross-country flight with layover), spending every night in the same room with literally hundreds of strangers, spending most of the rest of my time cooped up in a vehicle with 5 other people (at least 2 of whom were always snuffling & coughing), and access to fruits & veggies was unpredictable at best.

Then I spent Christmas with some friends who have a couple of adorable little disease monsters (a.k.a. toddlers).

Then right back to my regular job in January where 3 of my 5 co-workers spent the first week back at work hacking & sneezing & snuffling.

I haven't caught a dam' thing. I am totally fine.

I haven't had a flu shot in probably 30 years, and it's been at least 20 since I had any kind of serious flu that lasted longer than 24 hours.

I think I do wash my hands a little more often in winter, but this is probably more due to opportunity than intentional disease prevention - a lot of my time in the rest of the year is spent in situations where access to soap and hot water can be limited. And thanks to my job I get a helluva lot more exercise then, too.

The point of all of the above is not so much to humble-brag about how I don't get sick (because, yeah, I get a cold or two every year, I'm sure I'll get something in the next couple of months.) The point is that I think it's really pretty "normal" to actually go about your life in winter pretty much the way you do the rest of the year.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:02 PM on January 15, 2014

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