Sick and stuck in bed? Who wants that? Unfortunately, with the winter season in full swing, the chances of catching the flu or a cold increases drastically.
“Influenza tends to strike during the winter months," says Jock Lawrason, MD, pulmonary medicine physician at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital in Massachusetts. "People are generally cooped up together indoors in an enclosed space trying to keep warm, which increases their chances of spreading germs and getting ill.”
But if you’re careful, a few simple tweaks can help you safeguard your immune system and prevent coming into contact with cold and flu germs. Follow these steps to stay healthy all season long.
Wash your hands - It’s one of the most simple yet effective ways to avoid spreading cold or flu germs. Clean your hands with warm water and soap for about 20 seconds, or as long as it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” two times. When’s the best time to wash your hands? Put it this way: You can never wash too many times.
“Wash your hands as much as you can stand, and then some more — especially after wrapping up a visit with someone who’s sick,” says Alan Pocinki, MD, who practices internal medicine at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Carry around a hand sanitizer - Sometimes soap and water may not be in your reach. So keep a bottle of an alcohol-based sanitizer on your desk at work or throw a travel-sized bottle in your purse. That way, after shaking someone’s hand or touching something dirty, you’ll be able to disinfect quickly. It’s especially important to lather up after touching germy objects, such as door knobs, stair rails or even an ATM.
"ATMs are hotbeds for germs and viruses," advises Lawrason. "The influenza virus, for example, can stay on an inanimate object for one to two days, and strep pneumonia can last anywhere from two to three and a half weeks. The longer objects are touched without being washed, the higher the risk of someone getting sick.”
Ditch crowds - "Large gatherings of people will always enhance a person's chances of getting sick," Lawrason says. "The exposure to influenza and other viruses is greater, and shaking a lot of hands or being near someone who is sneezing or coughing will raise your odds of becoming ill.” Some of the most pertinent breeding grounds for germs include gyms, hotels, and grocery stores. Viruses also tend to spread easily at places like offices or daycares because of the high amount of people in attendance.
Get a flu shot - The flu shot is CDC recommended and one of the best ways to protect against the flu virus — and professionals say a flu shot is completely safe for everyone six months of age or older. The vaccination will help protect against a number of seasonal viruses that are the most common and will greatly decrease the chance you’ll come down with the flu. In fact, research shows that the flu vaccine can reduce the chances of contracting the flu by as much as 70 percent to 90 percent.
Keep your hands to yourself - A whopping 80 percent of all infectious disease is transmitted by touch. Avoid not only touching others, but touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, too.
"Your hands can be laden with influenza virus, but if you're not touching your eyes, nose and lips, you are not transmitting that virus (to yourself)," says Mark Nicas, an adjunct professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California-Berkeley.
Quit smoking - And if you don’t smoke, try to stay away from others who do.
“It’s well-known that smoking damages the linings of the nose and throat, which not only offer barrier protection but also have a layer of fine hairs, called cilia, that sweep bacteria, viruses and irritants from your respiratory tract,” says Lisa Schrader, MPH, director of student health services at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. “But even exposure to secondhand smoke can paralyze cilia, and if that happens and you encounter a cold or flu virus at the same time, it is more likely to get past that biological defense line.”
Catch your zzzs - Getting enough sleep is important for keeping healthy all year round, but it becomes even more important during flu and cold season. When you’re tired, your body isn’t able to fight as hard, so getting about eight to 10 hours of shuteye a night is ideal. What’s more, a poor sleeping habit, or getting insufficient quality of sleep is associated with lowered immune function.
This article is presented by Perkins Motors in Colorado Springs, Colorado.