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6 Easy Ways to Make Everyone Around You Sick
Are you guilty of one or more of these sickness spreading habits? We talked to an expert about what not to during cold and flu season.
By Erin Hicks
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THURSDAY, Nov. 8, 2012 —Feel the sniffles coming on? The cold and flu season is upon us, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that each year and many more catch the common cold. And once you do come down with a cold or the flu, you become a powerful germ spreader with the potential to make your friends, family members, poor unwitting coworkers, and countless others sick.
And, if you do all the wrong things, you can also make yourself even sicker.
Here are six things you can do to keep yourself sick while infecting those around you — and expert tips for what you really should do to keep from spreading germs.
1. Ignore your body when you feel like you’re getting sicker.
Do this instead:If you wake up one morning and find that every time you swallow you feel like you’re trying to pass a mouthful of cotton balls down your esophagus, you may want to stay home from work. “An abrupt worsening in how you feel is significant — we know, with a lot of viral infections a person is just before or right after developing symptoms. For a lot of viral respiratory tract infections, that’s when we’re shedding the most virus,” says Bruce Hirsch, MD, infectious disease specialist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York.
“New, severe symptoms are a danger signal to oneself and to others, and that’s when people are most infectious,” says Dr. Hirsch.
2. Insist on shaking hands.
Do this instead:If you go to work sick, try to minimize the number of people — and things — that you touch, says Hirsch. “Take precautions — wash your hands like crazy while you’re at work, avoid close personal contact with others, and try not to sneeze in your hands, but instead into your elbow or a handkerchief,” Hirsch advises. “[If you’re sick] be a little more conscious about touching other people, or touching what other people touch without washing your hands first."
3. Don’t sleep enough.
Do this instead: Not practicing healthy sleep habits can lead to all kinds of health problems, including cardiovascular issues, lowered immune system response, glucose and insulin abnormalities, disruption of hormones that control appetite, and impaired cognitive function. In short, it can make you more prone to getting sick — and that includes colds and flu.
“When we’re under stress and don’t get enough sleep it weakens our immune system — it’s sacrificing biological renewal,” explains Hirsch. “A purpose of sleep is to handle low-grade infections that we’re keeping at bay to stop them from becoming problematic. When your stress hormones are increased, your immune system takes a bit of a hit and can leave you vulnerable to sickness.”
4. Forget to take your medications.
Do this instead:During Hurricane Sandy, thousands of East Coast residents were forced to stay with family, friends, or in shelters. Not only were they exposed to germs they may not have otherwise come in contact with, it’s not uncommon for those who are displaced during natural disasters to lose or forget to bring the medications that are keeping them well. “At a time of stress, to add another unnecessary variation in your routine can be a real stress on your body,” says Hirsch. He recommends keeping a medication list and the names and numbers of your doctors in your wallet or purse, so you don’t forget it if you can’t get home due to inclement weather.
And even in the absence of a natural disaster, make sure you're taking the medications you've been prescribed for any health condition.
5.Maximize the amount of mucus per tissue.
Do this instead:Do you know people who insist on using every last inch of their tissue? Hirsch says you have a higher likelihood of infecting those around you if you allow dirty tissues to accumulate. “One or two uses and you are done. Throw it out,” he says.
6.Don’t get a flu shot.
Do this instead:You can help spread the flu without ever having symptoms yourself, according to Hirsch. Getting a flu shot helps safeguard you from unknowingly spreading it to others, even if you don't feel sick.
“If a town is full of people who are immune to the flu, then the flu won’t come in and attack those who are very old or very sick,” Hirsch explains. “It’s not just about you. You’re around different people, you’re around coworkers who may have elderly parents living with them, or there may be people in your community who have weakened immune systems or care for people with weakened immune systems. A flu shot isn’t perfect . . .
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