Insider secrets for staying sniffle-free

Health pros share their tips for avoiding colds or flu and staying well.

Nuna Alberts

Short of washing your hands frequently and getting a flu vaccine, there’s little you can do to outrun those nasty cold-weather viruses—or is there? We asked a few pros to give us the inside scoop on dodging colds and flus. Their collective wisdom may just help you stay healthy all season long!

Keep your distance

If you’re not sure how to eyeball six to 10 feet, use a tape measure or yardstick to help you figure it out, says Philip M. Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “That’s the ideal distance I always keep between myself and anyone who has signs of being sick,” he says. This will keep you outside the immediate spray of their germs and outside that person’s ‘touch zone.’ And 80% of all infectious disease is transmitted by touch.

Use a humidifier

As someone whose job involves keeping a hospital germ-free, Ted Myatt, ScD, director of Partners Institutional Biosafety Committee at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, was curious as to why we’re so vulnerable to the flu in winter. What his team discovered is that influenza thrives in low humidity, which is common in cold weather. And that’s great news because it means you can lessen your risk simply by doing what Dr. Myatt does: running a cool mist humidifier. “It’s much tougher for influenza to survive when the relative humidity is between 40% and 60%, which happens to be the level that’s most comfortable for humans,” he says.

Wear a scarf
You probably know that it’s exposure to a cold-causing virus—not frigid temps—that makes you sick. Even so, Patsy Stinchfield, RN, CNP, director of pediatric infectious disease services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, always wears a scarf in cold weather. The reason? Your neck is home to large blood vessels that transport IgA, an immune-system protein that helps keep pathogens from setting up shop in your body, she explains. “And IgA works much better at a normal body temperature, so wrapping a scarf around your neck when you go out in very cold weather is an easy way to keep your IgA high. The more IgA you have, the less likely you are to catch colds.”

Catch your Zzzs

“You need to sleep at least eight hours to enter the last REM sleep stage, which is when your stem cells are active in the cellular repair that optimizes your immune system,” advises Dr. Tierno. “And a well-tuned immune system is crucial for defending against the cold virus.”

September 2014