How to Fight Off the Flu

PHOTO: A man lies in bed sick with the flu.
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We've all been there: seated next to a snotting, sneezing, coughing person with no escape route available, worried that the next day we'll be the one hacking. But the truth is, catching an illness can't always be blamed on the obvious offenders.

Though you can pick up germs just about anywhere (disturbingly, viruses can linger on surfaces such as ATMs and checkout-aisle pens for 48 hours), actually coming down with a cold or flu is a complex process -- one that you can outsmart by following these stay-healthy tips.

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Wash, Rinse, Repeat

"The number one thing you can do to protect yourself from a cold or flu is to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently," says microbiologist Andrew Pekosz, Ph.D., of Johns Hopkins University.

Lather up with running water and soap (antibacterial soaps are no better than the regular stuff) and scrub your palms, between your fingers, and the backs of your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds. In a pinch, you can use hand sanitizer that's at least 60 percent alcohol, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Moisturize Your Air

Turns out, very humid air might be toxic to flu viruses. Scientists aren't quite sure why, but one possibility is that droplets that contain the virus shrink quickly in arid environments, allowing them to float around longer; in moist air those same droplets might remain heavy and fall to the floor faster, says Ted Myatt, Sc.D., an environmental scientist in Boston. Invest in a humidifier that keeps the humidity level between 40 and 60 percent.

Skip That Second (and Third) Drink

Alcohol can impair your white blood cells' ability to combat viruses for up to 24 hours after you overindulge, according to a study in BMC Immunology. Keep your imbibing to a reasonable one drink per day during cold and flu season, says Pekosz.

Don't Rely on C

Yes, you read that right: Though it's been touted as a cold fighter for decades, vitamin C has never been proven to fend off a cold or flu. And multiple studies show it does zilch to speed up recovery if you're already sick.

Sleep More

People who routinely get fewer than seven hours of shut-eye a night triple their risk of developing a cold compared with those who doze for eight or more hours, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine. When sleep-deprived, your body may produce too many cytokines, the proteins that trigger cold symptoms when you're sick.

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Taste the Rainbow

Immune-boosting antioxidants in brightly colored fruits and veggies battle the free radicals that dampen your natural defenses, says Josh Miller, D.O., an internist at the Cleveland Clinic. Eat plenty of fare such as red beans and berries (the brighter the hue, the higher the antioxidant count) and drink green tea.

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More from Women's Health:

Cold or Flu: Can You Tell?

Germ-Proof Your Office

The 20 Worst Supermarket Items

Immunity-Boosting Wonder Foods

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