How to be a better flu guard

Wash your hands often and get an annual flu vaccine — those are the best ways to avoid getting sick, yes, but not the only ways. "There's an entire arsenal of tools and actions you can use to fight off this virus," says Dr. William Berg, director of the public health department in Hampton, Va. Such as:

• Stop touching your eyes, nose and mouth. You're not just at risk if somebody coughs or sneezes near you. Viruses can live on many surfaces, and you can easily infect yourself by touching one and then a mucus membrane.

• Give up cigarettes and heavy drinking. Smoke _ including second-hand smoke _ damages your lungs and paralyzes tiny, hair-like cells in the nose that can sweep out viruses. Alcohol can weaken your immune system.

• Live healthfully. You're better able to fight off germs when you get enough sleep, exercise, eat fruits and vegetables and drink plenty of water. Note: obesity appears to be a risk factor for severe flu cases.

• Use a humidifier. Membranes in your nose and throat can block more germs if they don't dry out. A moister environment also may prevent viruses from staying airborne as long.


• Carry hand sanitizer. It's portable, convenient and effective if it has an alcohol concentration of at least 60 percent. But stick with soap and water for visible dirt.

• Use sanitizing wipes. Clean commonly-touched surfaces, including doorknobs, remote controls, office desktops, grocery store carts and ATM keypads.

• Avoid crowds. Limit trips to public places such as movie theaters and shopping malls at the height of flu season.

• Ask about prescription medication. If someone close to you gets sick and you haven't had a flu shot, an anti-viral _ plus a vaccination _ may keep you healthy.

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