4 Ways to Flu-Proof Your Winter

2. Shield Yourself From Germs

The best defense against viruses is to keep them?and the people and objects they infect?at a safe remove. "Germs can lurk on most surfaces for up to three days," says Charles Gerba, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona and co-author of The Germ Freak's Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. Here's how to protect yourself wherever you are:

Wash often and well. "Washing your hands is the best way to fight viruses and germs?if you do it properly," says Philip Tierno, Ph.D, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at New York University and author of The Secret Life of Germs: What They Are, Why We Need Them, and How We Can Protect Ourselves Against Them.

More: Boost Your Immune System

Soap the top and bottom of your hands (including under your nails) for as long as it would take you to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, says Tierno. When you can't get to a sink, a gel containing 60 percent or more alcohol will effectively remove cold germs, says Gerba, and helps protect against the flu by dissolving the outer layer of the virus. Hand wipes also work, but buy only those labeled disinfecting or sanitizing.

Don't share toothpaste tubes. Most people touch their brush to the opening, passing along germs.

Befriend paper towels. At home, replace bathroom and kitchen towels with disposable ones during flu season. At the office, use paper to open the office fridge and microwave, turn off a bathroom faucet, and exit the restroom.

Deploy disinfectant. Your phone, computer keyboard, and desktop all harbor more harmful germs than the average toilet seat does. Wipe them down at the end of each day. At the gym, disinfect free weights, yoga mats and other equipment before using them. If you're staying at a hotel, wipe down the remote control, phone, clock radio, light switches, and door handles. The cleaning staff probably hasn't cleaned these things in months, if ever.

More: Do Cold Remedies Work?

Use creative barriers. Press the elevator button with your keys, a knuckle, or your elbow. When using an ATM or a ticketing machine, use gloves, or press the buttons with your ATM card. Observe the 5-foot rule. Maintain at least five feet of distance between you and a coughing or sneezing coworker. Gravity forces the droplets that carry germs to fall rather than land much farther away. When traveling?on a train or bus?try to sit at least three rows behind someone who's obviously sick.

Check out these seven other ways to not get the flu.

More: 4 Tips to Prevent the Common Cold

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