You suffer the season’s first sniffles, coughs, fever and chills like a trouper, but in the end wonder what you did to deserve the misery. Unfortunately, it happens to the best of us. Germs are everywhere, making it almost impossible to avoid every cold or case of the flu. But following the Joint Commission’s five simple steps may help you ward off 11 common infections (see sidebar):
- Unhand those germs. You can keep your hands free of most cold and flu germs by washing frequently with plain old soap and warm water. Be sure to rub your hands for at least 15 seconds while you wash. Use a paper towel to dry thoroughly.
If you’re not near a sink, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Apply about a half teaspoon to your palm and rub your hands together—making sure to get between your fingers and under your nails—until your hands are dry.
- Make your healthcare providers wash or wear gloves. Don’t be afraid to ask your healthcare provider to wash his or her hands before touching you. Anyone who works with patients is in constant contact with some of the most resistant germs. Your provider should also be wearing clean gloves when performing tests on you or in any instance where he or she could come in contact with body fluids.
- Take cover. Sneezing and coughing, which can propel germs at least three feet away, are good ways to spread disease. When you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, use a tissue. Or cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your arm. (If you must use your hands, make sure you wash them immediately after.)
- Stay away. Nobody wants your germs, so if you’re sick, stay home from work or school to avoid infecting co-workers or classmates. When you go to your healthcare provider’s office for treatment, alert them that you may be contagious.
- Give it your best shot. Vaccines can help prevent the spread of everything from the chicken pox, measles and the flu, to pneumonia, meningitis and shingles. Check with your healthcare provider to make sure your shots are up to date.