1. Hand Washing
This is the #1 thing that you can do to stay healthy. Think of all of the common surfaces that you touch on a daily basis: doorknobs, refrigerator handles, bathroom stall doors, desks, railings, etc. The influenza virus can live on hard surfaces for as long as 2-8 hours. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds sufficiently & efficiently removes germs from your hands. Just don’t forget to wash your entire hands, yes that means in between fingers, around your wrists & under your fingernails.
Are you in the middle of hiking in Yosemite where soap and water are not readily available? Make sure to have a travel bottle of hand sanitizer at the ready.
2. Cover Your Sneezes
Have you seen this video depicting how far a sneeze actually travels?
Researchers at MIT have been studying the dynamics of a sneeze for the last several years, and have determined that the particles in a sneeze can linger in the air and travel five to 200 times further than previously thought, which was about a couple of meters (approximately 6.5 feet). Plus, the droplet particles aren’t dispersed in a stream, but in a “multiphase turbulent buoyant cloud.” This means that while the larger droplets may remain closer, those smaller particles in the cloud travel much further.
In a recent study, the team found that, “After analyzing more than 100 sneezes, the researchers identified a common pattern: Immediately after exiting the mouth, the exhaled fluid can form a wide sheet that balloons with the simultaneous expelling of air. As it travels through the air, the balloon bursts into thin filaments that eventually separate into individual droplets of various sizes that ultimately fall to the ground or remain suspended in the turbulent cloud.”
So the next time your co-worker sneezes like crazy you may want to do more than say, “Bless you.” You probably should make sure that they have an extra box of facial tissue on hand, and perhaps politely hint at the effectiveness of the ‘sneeze in the elbow technique,’ which contains the spray to a smaller area.
3. Healthy Habits - Get Some Sleep & Reduce Stress
As with so many things, taking care of oneself can be a major factor in staying healthy during the cold & flu season.
“The best flu prevention strategy is basic -- good nutrition, regular exercise, and enough sleep,” says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Sleep in particular is a big deal. Researchers at the University of California – San Francisco have found that “people who sleep six hours a night or less are four times more likely to catch a cold when exposed to the virus, compared to those who spend more than seven hours a night in slumber land.” Of course, it’s not just the quantity, but the quality of sleep that counts.
And don’t forget to reduce stress! Stress can run down your immune system making you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu.6 So take the time to relax and read a book, see a movie, hang out with your family, or meditate.
By practicing all of these tips – hand washing, covering sneezes, and developing & maintaining healthy habits – you will be doing all that you can to reduce the risk of catching a cold or flu this year.