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ROSWELL, Ga. -- In a recent survey, the flu and common cold ranked highest on a list of germ concerns for 2004. The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation for Kimberly-Clark Professional, found that 66 percent of people feared the flu most and 14 percent worried about getting the common cold. SARS and the Norwalk virus - last year's big health news stories - barely registered.
While it's sometimes hard to avoid getting sick in the winter months, there are ways to help protect against these infections. Following are some suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other sources to help keep flu and cold germs at bay:
Avoid close contact. Try to avoid people who are sick. It's that simple.
Remember your mother's advice -- wash your hands. Frequent hand washing with soap and water will help protect you from germs. Wash hands for 15-20 seconds. Alcohol-based gels or hand rubs may also be used. Six in 10 people in the Kimberly-Clark germ survey agreed - choosing frequent hand washing as the most important way to reduce the spread of germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Illnesses can be spread when someone touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
Wash up after touching surfaces touched by others. Some viruses and bacteria can live from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more on surfaces like telephones, doorknobs and desks. In fact, telephones led the list of germ-harboring office surfaces in another Kimberly-Clark survey. Doorknobs, door handles and the restroom followed. So make sure to wash after using the bathroom and before you eat.
Use a towel to shut faucets and grab bathroom door handles after hand washing. That way you won't be touching potentially contaminated surfaces with clean hands.
Don't share food and drinks. This is a great way to spread germs, so unless you want to share someone's illness, too, drink from your own cup.
Get plenty of sleep and rest. The more rested you are, the better your ability to fight off infections.
While protecting yourself from germs is important, it's also considerate to think of others especially when you are sick. Here are some "respiratory etiquette" tips from the CDC for keeping your germs to yourself:
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
After you use a tissue, throw it out. The germs will go with it.
If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. That way you won't spread germs when you touch things with your hands.
Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and water or clean with an alcohol-based waterless hand cleanser. Forty-two percent of workers in the Kimberly-Clark survey selected this as the one thing they would most like colleagues to do if they came to work sick.
Lastly, if you can, stay home when you're sick. If you stay away from work or errands when you are sick, you will help prevent others from catching your illness. This was the top choice among workers for preventing the spread of germs in the workplace, according to the Kimberly-Clark survey. After this, workers chose an arsenal of germ-fighting products including: waterless hand sanitizers for every desk, germ-killing paper towels and facial tissue and antimicrobial soap, and installing ultraviolet lamps in ventilation systems to kill germs and disinfect workplace air.
Sometimes despite everyone's best efforts, illness still strikes. If it does, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids.