Last [fresh]man standing

Dear Lucy: Hey! I’m a freshman and everyone’s been getting sick around me. Google advises me to wash and sanitize my hands and wipe down surfaces to prevent myself from getting sick, but I’m a busy MIT student and don’t have time to clean every surface every minute and wash my hands every time I touch anything. When should I wash or sanitize my hands? What surfaces should I clean, and how often? 

Also, here, have a meme—Clean Bill Of Health

Illustration of a person in a hazmat suit with a spray bottle and sponge cleaning a surface

Dear Bill: Great question! And great “I’m in danger!” meme. Lucy and many of her readers can totally identify with that sinking feeling we get as we watch those around us, one by one, succumbing to the illness of the moment. As you begin envisioning the strong possibility of sickness in your own future, you wonder if you should just resign yourself to that inevitable fate. No! You’re too busy to get sick! You’ve got to fight! You’ve got to do something! And, as your Google search indicated, doing something generally involves the cleaning of surfaces and washing of hands. 

The most important surfaces to clean are those that get touched by a lot of people — doorknobs, countertops, and other common areas in dorms and offices. Use a standard household disinfectant to clean these areas, and wash your hands afterwards. But, as you noted, nobody has time to clean every surface every minute. And that makes hand hygiene even more important. 

Hand hygiene starts with washing your hands whenever you can conveniently do so. But Lucy also recommends carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you and using it promptly after you touch surfaces or items that lots of other people have likely touched before you — things like tongs and serving utensils at a salad bar or buffet, condiment bottles, soda or coffee dispensers, and elevator buttons. Washing or sanitizing your hands before you eat is especially important.

What’s more, try to consciously avoid touching your face with your hands. That’s because you don’t get sick just by having germs on your hands; you fall ill when you get those germs into to your system by touching your nose or mouth or rubbing your eyes with those dirty hands. If you can manage to keep your hands away from your face, you’re much less likely to get sick. 

Finally, don’t forget to get a flu shot this year (and every year in the future, since active flu strains change). If you haven’t gotten one yet this year, never fear: MIT’s next walk-in flu clinic will be held on Tuesday, October 16 in Stratton Student Center (Building W20). All MIT students are eligible for a free flu shot; bring your student ID and stop by anytime between 3 and 7 p.m.

Here’s to a healthy school year! —Lucy

Back to Ask Lucy Information contained in Ask Lucy is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended as professional medical advice related to individual situations. Always obtain the advice of a qualified healthcare professional if you need medical diagnosis, advice, or treatment. Never disregard medical advice you have received, nor delay getting such advice, because of something you read in this column.