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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

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Keeping Catchy Infections Contained

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Stomach flu. Chickenpox. Pinkeye. Strep throat. These bugs spread fast. You can catch some of them, like the flu, from a person who doesn’t have symptoms yet.

Sickness spreads in many ways. You can breathe in germs when someone talks, coughs, or sneezes. You get some diseases, like chickenpox or pinkeye, if you touch a person who has it. And you can catch others, like hepatitis B, by having sex with an infected person or by coming in contact with their blood.

Recommended Related to Cold & Flu

Prevent Flu: Healthy Habits Beat the Virus

To prevent flu -- or any illness -- you've got to stick with a healthy lifestyle. "I really believe your immune system takes care of a lot of things," says Erica Brownfield, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Even if you've been exposed to the flu, you don't have to get it." The best flu prevention strategy is basic -- good nutrition, regular exercise, and enough sleep, she tells WebMD. "You can also wash hands frequently, and avoid people who...

Read the Prevent Flu: Healthy Habits Beat the Virus article > >

Germs are everywhere. Follow these five easy steps to help keep your family clear from catchy infections.

Get Your Shots

You don’t have to get sick. There’s a vaccine for many common contagious diseases.

Make sure your family is up to date on their vaccinations. That includes adults, who should get a tetanus/diphtheria/pertussis booster vaccine (also called Tdap) if they haven’t had one yet. Then they should get a diphtheria/tetanus, or Td, booster every 10 years. People over 60 should get a shot to prevent shingles. People 65 and over need to get two pneumonia shots. And most everyone over 6 months old should get a yearly flu vaccine. Adults may also need any vaccinations that they didn't get as children.

Remember, more shots means fewer chances for disease to spread.

Wash Your Hands

The CDC calls hand washing a “do-it-yourself vaccine.” It’s one of the easiest things you can do to stop germs in their tracks. Follow these steps to make sure:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold).
  • Use soap. Rub your hands together for 20 seconds - about as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice.
  • Rinse.
  • Dry your hands with a clean towel or let them air dry.

Don’t have soap and water? Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

When should you wash your hands?

  • Before, during, and after you prepare food
  • Before you eat
  • Before and after you care for a sick person
  • Before and after you treat a cut or wound
  • After you use the bathroom
  • After you change a child’s diaper or clean up after a child who’s used the bathroom
  • After you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze
  • After you touch an animal or its waste
  • After you feed your pet
  • After you touch garbage

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