Oct. 3, 2008 -- As the leaves begin to fall this winter, so will the temperatures. But there is one thing that is usually on the rise: cases of the flu.
From offices to classrooms, flu-causing germs abound. Have no fear, though, because Dr. Tim Johnson stopped by "Good Morning America" today to share the five things you can do to protect yourself.
The Three Feet Rule
Basically, you should try to stay a good three feet away from everybody who could possibly be infected with the flu already. Obviously, the more you can stay away from people who are sick, the more you're cutting the chances that you'll become sick yourself.
Under ideal circumstances, you might just cut yourself off from everybody altogether, but that's nearly impossible, of course. It just goes to show how pervasive and inescapable the flu is during the winter months when we're all stuck indoors together.
The Happy Birthday Hand-Washing Rule
In order to make sure that you spend enough time washing your hands, we recommend that you sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice. That way you can be sure you'll get the soap and water on there for a good 15 to 20 seconds.
Remember, it's always a good idea to wash your hands thoroughly after each time you do certain things like use the ATM or public transportation, or even after thumbing through magazines at the doctor's office. These are places where germs can fester and remain active for two to eight hours, just lying in wait for you to come along and pick them up.
No Antibacterial Soap
We recommend that people use regular hand sanitizers, gels and wipes rather than the antibacterial gels, soaps and wipes. It's a good idea to keep alcohol wipes or alcohol-based cleaning gel handy because alcohol kills bacteria and the viruses that cause colds.
There's the potential with antibacterial and/or antimicrobial products that they have chemicals that can lead common bacteria to adapt and turn into superbugs.
Don't Cover Coughs With Your Hands
Usually when you see people sneezing or coughing, they try to cover it up with their hands. That is the exact wrong thing to do because unless you wash your hands right away, everything you touch could end up with the flu germ on there.
So if you don't have a tissue handy, the best place to cough or sneeze is into your sleeve, not your hands. At least that way, you won't be spreading germs around with your hands.
Get Your Hands Off Your Face
Finally, to the degree that it's possible, try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, ever. That's because these are precisely the places where the flu germs spread to you and infect you and make you sick. Remember, germs can remain on hard surfaces like your desk at work or a table at home or a doorknob anywhere for two to eight hours. By touching those parts of your face, you're only increasing the risk you have of catching the flu.
Outside of getting a flu shot, the best thing to do for making sure that you don't catch the flu this year is to maintain good lifestyle habits -- good nutrition, steady exercise regime, plenty of fluids and lots of restful sleep.
If you stick to that -- and make sure to take a day off to protect your co-workers if you become sick -- everything should be OK.