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    Don’t Let a Cold Get You Down

    Americans get, on average, three to four colds a year. Here's how to protect yourself.

    Hardy Cold Viruses Abound: Don’t Touch! continued...

    The study also showed how easily viruses can be picked up. When volunteers touched surfaces an hour after they’d been contaminated, the viruses spread to fingertips 60% of the time. A full 18 hours after contamination, transmission still occurred 33% of the time.

    A follow-up study by Hendley’s team, conducted in people’s homes, found just about the same percentage of contaminated surfaces.

    The most obvious way to prevent picking up a cold, then, is keeping your fingers out of your eyes and nose. Most of us rub our eyes or touch our noses without thinking, however.

    A more practical approach, Hendley says, is to wash your hands frequently. Rub your hands together with soap and water, scrubbing the fronts and backs and in between your fingers while singing "Happy Birthday" twice. That should send those nasty germs swirling down the drain. Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol is a great backup plan if soap and water aren't available.

    Regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that are touched a lot can also help slow the spread of germs. Use a household disinfectant to clean countertops, desks, doorknobs, handles, phones, and toys.

    Prevent Flu the No. 1 Way: Get Vaccinated

    The surest way to avoid influenza is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are designed to match each year’s specific circulating strains. While a flu shot doesn't work 100% of the time, it's still your best bet for avoiding the flu and possibly preventing complications, like pneumonia.

    Boosting Immunity With Sleep and Positive Thinking

    Getting a good night’s sleep just might bolster your defenses against colds and perhaps flu bugs as well. There’s growing evidence of a link between sleep and a healthy immune system.

    A 2009 experiment by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggests that the more sleep you get, the better your chances of fighting off respiratory bugs. The scientists recruited 153 healthy men and women who agreed to be quarantined and then have cold viruses injected into their nostrils. Over the following 5 days, those who slept less than 7 hours were nearly three times more likely to come down with colds than those who racked up 8 hours of sleep or more. The researchers also measured what sleep scientists call sleep efficiency, a measure of how deeply people sleep. The better the quality of their sleep, the more likely the people were to fight off colds.

    Maintaining a positive outlook may also help bolster immune systems. The same research team reported in 2006 that volunteers with a positive outlook on life -- people who were generally happy, lively, and calm -- were better able to fight off both cold and flu viruses than people who were anxious, hostile, or depressed.

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    Reviewed on September 05, 2013

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