It is important to wash your hands before eating, anytime you are in a public place, in the classroom after touching door knobs, table tops, chairs - anything that was touched by others. If you cough or sneeze, turn down and away from others, cover your mouth with the inside of your arm (not your hand) - that way the germs are not carried on your hands - more easily spread to others.


DON'T TOUCH IT! Most illnesses are introduced by touching something contamined by something (table tops, phones, doorknobs, shaking hands) or someone (who has just coughed into their hand or rubbed their eyes or nose) and then later rubbing your eyes, biting nails, or touching your nose. This is another good reason to not rub your eyes, bite nails, or touch your nose. Once your hands are washed, don't touch anything except your food.



Scrub with warm water and soap: This strips away oils from the skin and removes germs, says William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. It's best to wash for at least 20 seconds. Teachers often tell kids to wash their hands for as long as it takes to sing the ABCs.


TURNING OFF THE FAUCET WITH THE TOWEL: Use a paper towel on handles: Protecting your hands while grasping faucets and knobs can help you avoid picking up germs, says Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.


GARBAGE CAN NEAR THE DOOR: There should be a garbage can near the door in public restrooms, allowing you to open the door handle with a paper towel and throw away the towel in the garbage on your way out. Someone else might have left without washing their hands and touched the door or the door handle.




People can block some of that viral transmission by covering their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough, or by turning away from people while coughing into the inside of their arm, he says. Some doctors also recommend sanitizing the hands after sneezing or coughing into them. It is much better not to cough into the hands because we tend to spread infections by touching things with our hands.


AIRBORNE: Most flu germs are transmitted through the air, as viruses cling to respiratory droplets expelled when people cough or sneeze, Schaffner says.


DISSIPATING: Because these wet droplets are heavy, they quickly fall to the ground. So people are at risk of infection only if they are within 3 feet of a coughing, sneezing person. It's much harder to catch the flu from a stranger passing by in a wide-open space, such as the street, Schaffner says.



(subtitle: Better yet, don't cough at all in public)

The incubation period for the flu is about one to four days, says Martin Blaser, former president of the Infectious Disease Society of America. But people are most contagious when they're coughing. Staying home, however, could save the life of someone else's child or grandparent, says Schaffner.


Babies are especially vulnerable to the flu because their immune systems aren't fully developed. And frail, elderly people can succumb quickly to the flu, especially if they develop complications, such as bacterial pneumonia.



BEST WAY TO STOP SPREADING INFECTION: Wash your hands. Studies prove that hand-washing dramatically reduces the spread of infection and is even a lifesaver. Even before the outbreak of swine flu, the World Health Organization reported that regular hand-washing — after using the toilet and before eating — could save more lives than any other medical intervention,

Although viruses don't pass through the skin, they can live on the hands and enter the body when people touch their mouths, eyes or noses, says William Schaffner, an infectious-disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.


And people touch their faces a lot — 16 times an hour for adults and more than 80 times an hour for children under age 2, says Charles Gerba, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona.


Alcohol-based gels also kill the flu virus, although they're most effective if people rub their hands up to the wrist until all of the liquid has dried, about 15 to 20 seconds, Schaffner says.


There's no point in wearing gloves, he says, because they can spread the flu virus just as well as bare hands. And people who wear gloves often incorrectly assume they can skip hand-washing.


Flu viruses, like many germs, prefer warm, moist environments, so they live on hard surfaces such as doorknobs for only a few minutes, Schaffner says. But because doorknobs are used through the day, they're frequently re-infected.