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How to avoid sickness this winter


With cold and flu season in full swing, many of us are being exposed to unwanted germs, and feel we have too much on our plate to be stuck in bed sneezing and coughing. Fortunately, there are some ways to avoid these dreaded illnesses this winter.

This week on “Take Care,” Dr. Philip Tierno gives us some tips on how to stay healthy when the people around us are not. Tierno is a professor in the departments of pathology and microbiology at NYU Langone Medical Center. He is better known however, as Dr. Germ for his research and his book on germs, “The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them.”

According to Tierno, we can be exposed togerms in a number of ways, but the most common is through direct and indirect contact with other people. “Direct [can be] like coughing, talking, sneezing on a person. Indirect [is] like touching a surface contaminated by a person,” Tierno said.

Although Tierno said wearing a paper face mask can be a good way to avoid the spread of illness through direct contact, many of us may not want to look like we’re about to go into surgery walking around the office. But there is an alternative.

“Keep yourself as far away from an individual who is sick, and obviously sick, that’s the best thing you can do. Five feet or more,” Tierno said.

This five feet rule plays into the fact that when a person sneezes, coughs, or talks their saliva can travel up to that distance and can potentially enter the main sites of contraction in another person—the eyes, nose, and mouth. Along with keeping your distance, Tierno also said the use of disinfectant sprays and wipes can help. By cleaning surfaces and disinfecting the air, it eliminates possible germs the sick person may have left behind.

If you are living with a person who has contracted a cold, it may be a bit more difficult not to catch it.

“It takes a lot of effort,” Tierno said.

However, it is not impossible. Sanitation is the main key; constant hand washing by you and the sick person, disinfecting surfaces after they have touched them, not letting them handle your food or drink, and trying to contain them to using one bathroom while they are sick are some ways Tierno recommends to reduce the risk.

After someone has gotten over a sickness, some of us may worry that a person’s lingering cough or stuffy nose can still get us sick, but Tierno assures us it cannot.

“Microplasma is one of the organisms that can give you something that lingers for weeks,” Tierno said. However, this is not something that is contagious. Tierno explains that while a person is sick, the body produces antibodies and interferon, which cut down on the presence of an illness, a process that takes two weeks at most.

“Anything that’s after that is not really a virus, it’s the occurrence of things the body is producing against the virus to get well,” Tierno said.

Although getting sick this winter may be inevitable, taking the precautions Tierno shared may make it harder to catch that dreaded cold and flu.