Health Team

Good Hygiene Can Help Prevent Colds, Flu

Posted December 14, 2006 2:55 p.m. EST

— Stuffy noses, sore throats, sneezing, coughing, fevers and major aches: It is that time of the year when relatives, friends and coworkers are getting a cold or the flu.

But you don't have to be a victim. There are simple things that many people do not do that could help you avoid infection.

Cold and flu viruses are spread not only by human contact -- kissing or being near someone who is coughing or sneezing -- but they can also come from infected surfaces. The virus can live for hours on the fingers and days on any other surface where it can be picked up by another person who touches his or her eyes, mouth, or nose.

In the workplace, for example, door handles, phones and computer keyboards can be a good source of shared germs because they are often shared by many people.

A recent UNC Hospitals study showed using disinfectant wipes can help.

"All you need to do is apply the disinfectant wipe across the keys for approximately 5 seconds," said Dr. William Rutala, director of UNC Hospitals' epidemiology department.

Rutala found wiping keyboard keys with a disinfectant for 5 seconds was 95 to 100 percent effective in getting rid of germs.

Disinfectant wipes, however, cannot replace good hand-washing, Rutala said, which is one of the best ways to avoid spreading germs. A good technique that experts recommend includes using an antibacterial soap and hot water.

Another way, experts say, to help prevent the spread of cold or flu: Cover your sneezes and coughs but not with your hands. Sneeze into your arm, instead.

Better yet: Stay home if you are sick, especially if you are coughing and sneezing.