Staying away from "what's going around"

February 24, 2009 6:39:19 PM PST
Wash hands, wash hands, wash hands - the 3 best ways to avoid getting sick in the office.

Colds and the flu hop from worker to work with lightning speed.

You can hope you won't get sick, or you can take steps to keep yourself healthy.

Health experts say the many supplements sold over the counter won't help, but one simple thing will - wash your hands.

You may also have a few bad habits that make it easy for a virus to spread in your office.

If you want to avoid falling victim this year, infectious disease specialists say extra vigilance about hand hygiene, among other precautions, might do the trick.

"We know that some years (viruses) are more severe than others," says Dr. Neil Fishman, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and director of the Department of Healthcare Epidemiology and Infection Control for the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "But it's not impossible to totally avoid getting sick."

Dr. Fishman says cold, dry air drains the normal amount of mucus we carry in our nasal passages, making it easier for viruses to attach to the tissues in your nose.

In addition, we spend more time indoors in winter months, in closer contact with someone who is sick.

The ailing economy is also discouraging workers from taking a sick day.

Even being near someone who is sick can raise you chance of infection. Every time a sick person exhales, he or she sends out a cloud of viruses that extend for about 3 feet in every direction. A sneeze or a cough sends those germs flying further.

In addition, most viruses will last on common objects, like door knobs, light switches, elevator buttons, and even computer keyboards for hours after they were touched. Plus, when it comes to cold, a person is already shedding viruses a day before they actually show signs. So you can pick up viruses even before your co-worker comes down the latest "bug."

Since most germs spread faster through hand contact than sneezes, it makes sense to wash your hands often.

To boost your immunity, skip the Vitamin C or echinacea-packed products. There's little scientific evidence they make a difference. Instead, doctors say eating healthy, getting exercise, and a good night's sleep will do more - and they are a lot cheaper.

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