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Be a sensible germophobe: Avoid the flu

Consumer Reports News: November 09, 2010 06:09 AM

Achoo! Your workplace might be a breeding ground
for cold and flu germs.

Sitting on a cross-country flight next to a guy having "sneezures" last weekend, my germophobia was at an all-time high. It wasn’t a question of will I get sick, just when. Sure enough, when I flew home three days later, I was sneezing and coughing—and the lady next to me was worrying.

Of course, you don't have to be on a plane to catch a cold or the flu. Microorganisms thrive just about anywhere. In fact, I could have easily picked up my infection, a cold, in my hotel room, according to a 2007 study in the Journal of Medical Virology. It found the cold virus on hotel door handles, pens, light switches, TV remote controls, faucets, and telephones. Or I could have gotten the bugs from my iPad. Stanford University researchers reported this July in the Journal of Applied Microbiology that viruses can be readily transferred from the touch screens of devices such as smart phones and tablets.

The work place and schools are other fertile breeding grounds for germs. An October survey of office workers revealed that almost two-thirds of employees sometimes come to work sick, and 80 percent clean their workspace only once a week or less. And researchers at the University of Arizona found cafeteria tables to be the most germ-infested places in school, followed by computer mice (which harbored nearly twice as many bacteria as desktops), bathroom paper-towel and sink handles, water fountains, library tables, and computer keyboards.

While colds can be an annoyance, the flu can be much worse. Which is why I'm surprised a recent poll from the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that so many people, even those at highest risk, say they don't necessarily plan on getting the vaccine this year. Two of the reasons given were the mistaken belief that it's best to build one's own natural immunities and the false reassurance that "I just don’t get the flu."

Don't count on it! Sitting on that plane, I was glad that I got my flu shot this year, because I sure didn't want a bout of the flu on top of my cold.

Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser

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