Got germs? With the sneezing season upon us, you'll want to take steps to reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria that can make you sick. And a few simple strategies can really reduce the likelihood that you'll end up with a cold, flu, or other germ-caused illnesses this winter.

Wash Those Germs Off Your Hands

Handwashing is a simple and effective germ-fighter, as long as you do it correctly and at key moments. The practice decreases the sheer number of germs on your hands, so “you’re much less likely to transfer an effective dose of a virus or bacterium into your body,” says John Santa, M.D., a medical adviser to Consumer Reports.

When to wash? Get out the soap and water before, during, and after you prepare food; before you eat; after you use the restroom, change a diaper, cough, sneeze, or blow your nose; touch garbage; or touch an animal or its food or waste. You'll also want to wash before and after you care for someone who is ill or has a minor injury, like a cut.

When it comes to proper technique, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a five-step method: wet your hands with clean, running warm or cold water, shut off the water and grab your soap (skip antibacterial products). Then, rub your hands together with the soap to create a lather. Lather the fronts and backs of hands and be sure to get between your fingers and underneath nails.

Scrub away for 20 seconds or more (that's the time it takes to sing the "Happy Birthday" song twice over). Turn the tap back on and rinse under water that's clean and running. Finish off by drying your hands with a clean towel (air drying is also a reasonable option).

Kill Germs Without Water

If water isn’t available for handwashing, you can still take some smart steps to lower the germ load on your hands. Here's how: Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer such as Purell. Check the label to make sure it contains at least 60 percent alcohol (ethanol and isopropanol)—that’s the level at which it’s effective against germs.

Don't Be Touchy

Make a conscious effort to keep your hands away from your face. Most of us touch our eyes, nose, and mouth about 16 times over the course of three hours, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. That lays down the welcome mat for bacteria, viruses, and other bugs that hang out on your hands. 

Get Your Shots

It's important to make sure you're up to date on your vaccines for flu and other contagious illnesses—because vaccines prompt your immune system to produce antibodies that protect you from disease. The government issues recommendations for children and adults, so it's wise to check and see what's appropriate for you.   

That said, many older adults make the mistake of thinking they're essentially finished with the need for vaccines. Not so. Older adults should have an annual flu shot and a tetanus-­diphtheria booster every 10 years after a one-time Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) shot. If you’re 60 or older, get the one-time shingles vaccine; at age 65, get both pneumococcal vaccines, a year apart.