How To Stay Well (When Everyone Else Is Sick)
No need to go into hiding: These research-proven strategies will protect you at the office, on planes, and in crowded malls
• Steer clear of coughers. In a German study, guests who hugged, kissed, or just talked with a sick teenager — before she started to cough or show other symptoms of the H1N1 virus — didn't catch it from her. What's more, even after the girl developed symptoms, such as fever and coughing, only those participants who chatted with her for 15 minutes or longer or who kissed her got infected.
This isn't the only study to suggest that you don't need to be overly fearful of "silent spreaders": When a team of researchers from the University of Hong Kong, Harvard University, and the CDC followed more than a thousand men and women during the 2008 flu season, the scientists estimated that only 1% to 8% caught the virus from people without symptoms. So don't skip holiday parties, but if a guest is coughing or seems feverish or is complaining of a sore throat, cut your conversation short and blow a friendly kiss as you move on.
At the Mall
• Suds up before hitting the food court. The sanitizing hand goop in the dispenser at the food court (or in your purse) does a good job of killing bacteria and seasonal viruses like those that cause colds and flu. But it hardly makes a dent against the noroviruses that cause the stomach flu. In studies at Emory, hand sanitizers with 62% or 63% alcohol (the amount in most major brands, such as Purell, Infectigard, and Germ-X) killed only a fraction of noroviruses. Even products with alcohol content of up to 95% failed to wipe them all out.
But the Emory research did suggest an effective tactic against these resilient bugs: physically forcing the virus off your hands with the help of running water. Dampen your hands, soap them, and rub together for 20 seconds (about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice), then rinse with warm running water. Just be sure to use a paper towel to shut off the faucet and to turn the doorknob on the restroom door after washing. That way, your hands will be norovirus-free when you grab hold of your burger, fries, or slice.