How can I avoid picking up germs in a doctor's waiting room?

Catching the cold or flu bug in the doctor’s office is far from inevitable. By taking a few simple precautions, most people should be able to minimize the risk of getting sick while waiting for care.

Before even setting foot in a waiting room, get a flu shot. Flu shots can help prevent illness altogether or at least lessen the severity and length of symptoms if the flu does take hold. Most doctors recommend the shot for everyone -- even those who don’t plan to visit a doctor’s office.

Try to avoid waiting rooms altogether during cold and flu season if possible. Schedule routine physical exams and tests before or after the fall and winter months, when fewer sick people are likely to be around. If a visit during cold and flu season is unavoidable, try to schedule appointments first thing in the morning, before other patients arrive, or late in the day, after others have left.

A growing number of family medicine and pediatrician offices have “sick” and “well” waiting areas to help keep healthy people healthy. If that isn’t an option, consider wearing a face mask; often, doctor’s offices and hospitals will provide masks to people who request them. If no mask is available, hold a clean tissue over the nose and mouth while in the waiting room, and avoid sitting near anyone who looks or sounds ill.

Magazines may carry germs, but they certainly aren’t alone. Railings, doorknobs, elevator buttons and even pens may host germs as well, but simply touching them won’t cause illness. Viruses and bacteria enter the body through mucous membranes, so avoid touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Wash hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water after handling any shared items, or take advantage of the hand sanitizer lotions or gels available in most waiting rooms.

Finally, if the waiting room is especially crowded or small, consider waiting in the hallway, outdoors or in the car and asking office staff to call when the doctor is ready -- especially if the doctor is running behind or the wait will be considerable.

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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.