How to stay healthy when germs are flying around your tiny apartment

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We're in the midst of cold and flu season in a city where it's particularly easy to pick up some nasty germs. While most of us understand the importance of vigorous hand-washing after touching things like subway poles, it can be tougher to avoid getting sick when we're living in space-starved NYC apartments and a roommate, partner, or child falls ill. 

Getting the flu shot is an important preventative measure, and the city offers a guide to locations where you can get vaccinated here. And once someone in your home gets hit with a cold or stomach bug, it isn't necessarily inevitable that you'll get it, too, even if you're sharing close quarters.

Here are some steps to take to keep sickness-causing germs from spreading throughout your apartment. 

  • Quarantine the sick person: The CDC advises people suffering from illnesses like the flu to stay home, which thankfully became a lot easier for adults to do when the city instituted mandatory paid sick leave from work in 2014. If possible, the sick person should remain in their own room; keeping your distance will help prevent the spread of germs. Of course, it's easier to make a sick child stay put than an adult roommate. In the latter case, encourage your roomie to get some rest and offer to run errands for them so that they don't have to go out. And if you have more than one bathroom in your apartment, avoid the one your ill roommate is using. 
  • Step up your hand-washing: Especially if you have a sick child who might be putting their germy hands everywhere, it's important to remember that a person who is ill can leave their bacteria and viruses on everything they touch. And once you touch the same objects and surfaces—and later, unthinkingly rub your nose, eyes, or mouth—you're putting yourself at risk. Men's Health suggests that you wash your hands more than usual, particularly after using the same spaces as the sick person, and before you eat anything. 
  • Clean, clean, clean: It's time to get crazy with the Clorox. Self points out that germs thrive on oft-used objects like doorknobs and light switches; we'd add the TV remote to that list. You'll also want to scrub surfaces like kitchen counters, vanities, sinks, and floors, particularly in the bathroom if someone's gotten a stomach virus. Wear gloves and perhaps even a mask while you're cleaning. You should also run fabrics that get shared—like hand and kitchen towels, and covers on couch pillows—through the laundry.
  • Be aware that contagions can stick around: Remember that even after your child or roommate has recovered, they could still be contagious. Verywell warns that you can catch a cold from others for as long as three weeks after they first get sick; the Mayo Clinic writes that some types of stomach flu (gastroenteritis, for instance) are transmittable for up to two weeks after a person has recovered from it. In other words, keep up the cleaning and be assiduous with hand-washing even after your housemate's symptoms have stopped. 
  • Clear the air: NYC apartments are notoriously hot and dry, thanks to hyperactive radiators, and that's the kind of climate germs love, reports CNN. Consider getting a humidifier or an air purifier to filter out airborne germs. On a more low-tech note, opening the windows for better ventilation is a good idea, too. 
  • Keep your immune system strong: While we're not totally sold on the efficacy of preventatives like Airborne, there are ways to keep up your body's germ-fighting capacities. According to the Harvard Medical School, getting a good night's sleep, exercising, and avoiding drinking and smoking are all possible immunity-boosting practices, but the school cautions that you should remain dubious of products that claim to offer shortcuts. 

Finally, try to adopt a sanguine attitude about occasionally ending up under the weather. It can be a challenge to avoid bugs when you're sharing a city with eight million people—and perhaps a tiny apartment with one or two.