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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

Debunking Myths About How to Stay Well continued...

Antibiotics: Last year, a University of Pennsylvania study found that 67% of hospitalized adults who'd been given antibiotics for respiratory infections continued to receive them even after their illnesses had been identified as viral. Antibiotics destroy bacteria, not viruses, so taking them won't help you get better any faster if a cold or flu virus is what's causing your symptoms. If you or your doctor thinks you might have flu, ask about a flu test, which should give results in less than 24 hours. Rapid flu tests can be moderately expensive, but most insurers will cover them. Depending on what your doctor thinks is safer, you can either start antibiotics immediately and quit taking them if the test results are positive for a flu virus or just wait for results before filling your prescription.

Germ-fighting products:

  • UV-SANITIZING WANDS These handheld, battery-powered devices claim to stamp out viruses and bacteria on hard surfaces, with some saying they work in seconds. "But it's unlikely that a quick pass with a UV-C light will thoroughly sterilize an uneven surface, such as a doorknob or a grocery cart handle," says Charles P. Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of environmental microbiology at the University of Arizona. Gerba also worries about safety with these devices: "Prolonged, close exposure to intense, focused UV light can damage your eyes."
  • ANTIBACTERIAL GLOVES, SCARVES, AND OTHER GARB First, these offer no defense against cold or flu viruses. As for any claims that the fabric naturally kills bacteria "on contact" (including the notorious MRSA), almost nothing does that, says Gerba. "It always takes time, sometimes hours."


Why You Can't Skip the Flu Vaccine

While it's not a guarantee that you won't get the flu, a vaccine cuts your odds significantly — far more than anything else you can do to stay healthy. Think you have reasons to take a pass? We have research that explains why they no longer apply.

"It hurts!" Now you can get your seasonal flu vaccine from a needle that's 90% shorter than the traditional jabber. This hair-thin microinjection (Fluzone Intradermal) provides less-painful protection by depositing the vaccine right under the surface of your skin, not deep down in your muscle. Not ouchless enough? There's FluMist — flu vaccine given with one spray in each nostril for anyone ages 2 to 49.

"I never get the flu" Besides the advice to "never say never," there are fringe benefits to consider: In the first two months after getting a seasonal flu vaccine, adults 40 years and older had an 18% lower risk of having a first heart attack, an English study found. (Respiratory infections, even mild ones, may trigger a heart attack in adults with risk factors.) The shot may do double duty on another front, too: A U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center study found that the 2008-09 seasonal flu vaccine provided some protection against that spring's H1N1 pandemic, lowering the odds of severe disease in particular.

"I'm allergic to eggs" To make the vaccine, flu viruses are grown in eggs, but the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology now says that most people with egg allergy can safely receive the vaccination. Before getting your shot, though, see an allergist.

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