You know that cold or flu that's been kicking your butt since, oh, the first frost?
The one that's given you the husky voice of a seasoned smoker and a cough that makes you wonder if TB is making a comeback? The virus that's already consumed all your annual sick days before January is even up? The "Great Sickening of 2017/2018" that's made you seriously consider quitting society, moving to a cabin in the woods, taping up the windows, and staying there until there's a cure for gastro?
The problem could actually be your winter coat and accessories, Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, told the New York Post this week.
"I generally recommend cleaning things you wear in public about once a week," Gerba said. "And people don't tend to wash things like winter coats a lot."
In fact, the gloves, scarves, coats, and boots you rely on to keep you cozy all winter are all hotbeds for germs, according to the New York Post.
"This clothing can harbour bacteria, viruses that can be spread and can be a mode for transmission of infection," James Swiencicki, Infectious Disease Specialist, told News 4 in Buffalo, N.Y.
You could also re-infect yourself if you haven't washed your winter wear since the last time you were sick, Swiencicki told News 4.
And winter's not over yet (yes, even for you, British Columbia). Even though we may have finally reached the "peak" of this year's sickly season, influenza activity in Canada remains high, according to the most recent weekly "FluWatch" summary from the Government of Canada.
So, it's a good time to follow these expert tips for keeping your winter wear as germ-free as possible.
Wash those gloves, and make it hot
"You touch your face about 16 times an hour," Gerba told the New York Post.
Yes, even when you're wearing gloves. So, not only are your gloves soaking up your own gross germs, they're likely picking up germs from anything you touch in "enclosed public spaces," Gerba said.
Since heat is what kills microbes, Gerba recommends washing cloth gloves in high heat once a week, or just putting them in the dryer on high heat for 45 minutes if you're worried about the gloves shrinking.
Clean that coat
Hey, when's the last time you washed your winter coat? Yeah. Exactly.
"They probably get pretty gross, because people don't tend to wash them a lot — what, once a year?" Gerba told the New York Post.
Errr ... sure ... let's pretend we wash our coats at least that often. Gerba recommends washing your winter coat a few times per season, and making sure to clean it before you store it for next winter.
If you want to skip the dry cleaner's, Esquire notes that most parkas, fluffy vests, and fleeces are machine washable. But wool overcoats still need to go to the cleaners, they added.
Scrub that scarf
You should wash your scarf at least once a week, Nasia Safdar, medical director of infection control for University of Wisconsin Hospital, told Today in 2015.
"The flu virus can live on clothing like gloves and scarves for two or three days, while diarrhea-causing viruses, such as rotavirus and norovirus, may thrive for as many as four weeks," Today reported.
"If children are sharing scarves, I'd recommend you wash them that very day," Gerba told the New York Post.
Your boots are probably disgusting
"Boots are bad," Gerba told the New York Post.
"You get fecal bacteria on the bottom of your shoes ... and more of that bacteria gets picked up when your boots are wet."
Clean the bottom of your boots with an antiseptic wipe at least once a week, Gerba recommended.
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