How can I prevent colds and flu?

Our hands carry many disease-causing germs. They get there by the surfaces, items and people we come in contact with. Everything from holding hands, to using the restroom, to preparing food, to touching public door handles can transmit germs to our hands and the surface of our skin. This is especially true when someone gets sick with a cold or flu. Constantly coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose all contribute to putting those germs on our hands and potentially transferring those germs to someone or something else. For this reason, it is always important, but even more so when you are sick, to practice good hygiene techniques. These include sneezing or coughing into your sleeve or elbow rather than your hand.

Hand washing with soap and water for 30 seconds or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help cut back on the number of germs that we pass along. This includes after using a restroom, blowing your nose, preparing food or caring for someone who is sick or injured, just to name a few. Therefore, the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family during cold and flu season is to practice good consistent hand washing!

Cold temperatures and low humidity are the influenza virus's favorite weather conditions. A flu shot, frequent hand-washing, and pulling out the sanitizer when you can't get to a sink are your first-line defenses, as is taking 1,000 IUs per day of vitamin D3, which cuts your flu risk in half.

Get eight solid hours of sleep nightly to head off colds -- and winter weight gain, too. Staying up playing Angry Birds till all hours (and likely noshing while you're at it) leaves you five times more likely to wind up sneezing, as well as shopping for elastic-waisted jeans.

Colds, flu, and other viral infections are common. Almost everyone has at least one cold a year -- and kids often have as many as 12! To help limit the number of colds your family gets, follow these tips:
  • Wash your hands often or use a sanitizing hand cleanser. And remind your children -- and their caregivers -- to wash their hands often too. This is one of the best things you can do to stay well and prevent the spread of viruses.
  • Avoid crowds. If your child goes to day care, try to find a day care with fewer children in a room. And if you can, avoid crowded public places during flu season.
  • Get a flu shot every year. Make sure everyone in your family does too. It only prevents the flu, not common colds and coughs. But avoiding the flu has been proven to prevent both common and serious complications.
  • Avoid smoke. If you smoke, do everything you can to quit. And avoid secondhand smoke.
A healthy immune system may prevent a cold or the flu. Keep your resistance up by using these preventive measures.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Get enough sleep (at least 7 to 8 hours per day).
  • Incorporate daily exercise in your routine.
  • Wash your hands often, especially if you are around people who have colds or the flu. 
  • Keep your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Consider annual flu shots, especially if you are over 65 or have a chronic illness.
  • Avoid contact, if possible, with people who are ill.
Dr. Andrea Pennington, MD
Integrative Medicine Specialist

Wash your hands. This sounds basic, but it is one of the most effective ways to prevent getting and spreading the viruses that knock us off our feet. You see, most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. When someone who has the flu sneezes onto their hand, and then touches the telephone, the keyboard or a doorknob, the germs can live there for some time. The next unsuspecting person picks them up. So wash your hands often and tell your children to do the same! If no sink is available, carry some hand sanitizing gel in your pocket book or briefcase.

Viruses can become airborne through respiratory droplets, so to protect those around you, use a tissue when you sneeze or cough. If you have to use your bare hands, be sure to wash your hands immediately to avoid passing germs along to others! We pick up cold and flu viruses through the membranes in our eyes, nose, and mouth. If you work in a busy office or are around children often, be sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes or nose with your bare hands. Using a spray, like Lysol, that has been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill viruses and bacteria can greatly reduce the spread of common causes of the flu. Spray door handles, garbage cans and wipe counter tops.

In order to keep the body revved up to fight infection, it is crucial to keep your body moving! So, be sure to stick to your exercise regimen. Aerobic exercise like jogging, house cleaning, brisk walking and aerobic routines can really boost the body’s disease fighting abilities.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.