Are You Guilty of the Worst Cold and Flu Habits?

Patient Expert

January is the month when millions of people make an effort to revamp their health habits. Coincidentally, it's also the month when many variants of cold and flu viruses - including sinus infections causes by bacteria -- rear their ugly heads. Now may be the perfect time to take stock of your health habits and see if they could use some minor modifications.

Here's a countdown of the seven worst offenses:

7) Going to Work Sick. According to the Harvard Business Review, "presenteeism," or going to work while ill, cost American companies $150 billion a year. Not only won't you win points in the popularity department if you're hacking and wheezing in the middle of the closed-door meeting, it will take longer for your cold to subside if you don't get the rest your body needs. (If lack of sick days necessitates your going to work, close your office door and email people in lieu of face-time. At the very least, wash your hands before you grab an office bagel.)

6) Taking Leftover Antibiotics. Unfortunately, some people treat antibiotics like Altoids: they keep a stash for later or share them with friends. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics, be sure to take the entire course. If you don't, your symptoms maybe be alleviated temporarily, but the bacteria could remain and resurge with a vengeance. Theories abound that the overuse and misuse of antibiotics can lead to drug-resistant super-bugs, so much so that several organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics, published guidelines for the appropriate use of antibiotics. Recently, doctors have become more discriminating when prescribing antibiotics, so don't think your doctor is being lax if he sends you home with the recommendation to hit your pillow instead of the pharmacy.

5) Failing to Wash Your Hands Before You Eat. You don't have to be Howard Hughes obsessive when it comes to hand-washing, but remember that germs can live on surfaces for up to thirty-six hours. So, when you're ready to bite into your sandwich at work, take a minute to go wash your hands first-it could just save you three days of downtime.

4) Touching Your Face, Eyes, or Nose. The average adult touches their face one to three times every five minutes. Try to make a conscious effort not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth, or you may just be giving germs a direct-but unintended-route into your system.

3) Keeping Your Toothbrush in a Danger Zone. It's three o'clock in the afternoon -- do you know where your toothbrush is? During cold and flu season, take note of where you keep your toothbrush: Is it in a community holder where your toothbrush bristles touch other bristles? If so, you and a housemate may be passing germs back and forth. Toothbrush holders can be teeming with viruses and bacteria, so wash and disinfect them regularly. It's a good idea to keep your toothbrush separate from other brushes and to let it dry out thoroughly between uses.

2) Being a Close-Talker. Any time someone unknowingly spits while talking, you have the chance of being the unlucky target. Better to be safe by giving people their space, especially if that person is ill.


1) Coughing Into Your Hand. Surprised? Most people were taught to cough into their hands to avoid getting other people sick. However, the new respiratory etiquette advises coughing or sneezing into a tissue, which you throw away, or coughing or sneezing into your elbow instead of your hand.