Avoiding Colds and Flu

Health, Home & Family
on February 8, 2009

As a nurse, Sachia Logan of Independence, Mo., knows about reducing the spread of colds and influenza. But it's her other job–mom to three young kids–that really brings the message home.

"We wash our hands a lot," says Logan, 32. "My kids love to sing their ABC's and the Happy Birthday song, and thats how much time is needed to fully wash off the germs."

Colds and flu often are lumped together because they're both respiratory infections caused by viruses. Adults catch two to four colds a year; children average six to 10. Five to 20 percent of Americans get the flu as well.

"While colds are a minor irritation, influenza can be a serious illness," says Dr. Rick Kellerman, a family physician in Wichita, Kan. "More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications each year."

Fortunately, you can improve your odds of avoiding colds and flu by taking simple steps.

Wash your hands. "That's step number one," Kellerman says. "Scrub with soap and warm water for 15 to 20 seconds. If water isn't available, use gel sanitizers or alcohol-based disposable hand wipes. Clean your stuff. Disinfect kitchen and bathroom surfaces, and wash your child's toys after play when he or she is sick."

"Be hands-off. Keep your fingers away from your nose and eyes to avoid infecting yourself with any virus you might have on your hands."

"Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with others who are sick, particularly during the first few days, when the infection is most likely to spread."