Health topics made headlines in 2009: H1N1 flu, the seasonal flu and their prevention, and no one wants to get these illnesses because they are uncomfortable, inconvenient and, in certain cases, deadly. The immune system—one’s ability to detect, find and destroy pathogens—defends the human body against bacteria, viruses and other organisms that can cause many different illnesses. Unfortunately, our immune system is not 100 percent effective. The best way to stay healthy is to do all you can to help boost your immune system. Following are some ways to help keep you and your family healthy during the cold and flu season.

Get the shot

A seasonal influenza vaccination gives 70–90 percent protection against infection and can reduce the severity and side effects if you get the flu. The flu shot is recommended for adults 50 and older, children 6 months to 5 years and anyone who wants to reduce the chance of getting the flu. Discuss with your doctor if the vaccine is right for you and which one to get.

Much of the same can be said of the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the following groups should have received the vaccine:

• Pregnant women

• Caregivers and those households with children younger than six months

• All individuals from six months old to 24 years old

• People aged 25 through 64 years who have health conditions associated with higher risk of medical complications from influenza

Again, consult with your doctor to determine the correct treatment for you and your family.

Sanitize

Research findings agree that, when used correctly, hand sanitizers eliminate nearly all germs. You must squirt enough gel into your hands so that they are still damp after 10–15 seconds of rubbing them together. An important factor when choosing a sanitizer is that it is made of at least 60 percent alcohol. This percentage has been found to be very effective at killing most germs.

Avoid your face

Bacteria and viruses need a way into the body in order to cause an illness, and just sitting on your hands usually won’t do the trick. The problem begins when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth. By not touching these areas, you can help prevent the germs from getting into the body and causing an illness.

Open up!

It is no coincidence that when the temperature drops, the likelihood of catching a cold or the flu increases. Homes and businesses tend to keep doors and windows closed in cooler weather, trapping bacteria and viruses inside where they can thrive. Open doors or windows once a week (even in very cold temperatures) to allow fresh air in and force the stale, unhealthy air out.

Take a multivitamin

This does not need to be some expensive, super-high-dose vitamin. All that is needed is a once-a-day multivitamin with 100 percent of the recommended daily amounts of vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C and D and the minerals calcium, chromium, copper, folic acid, selenium and zinc. Taking the vitamin with a meal that contains some fat (toast with butter or a meat sandwich) will help your body absorb the vitamins and minerals better. It’s important to take the vitamin with an 8-ounce glass of water to allow the pill to dissolve and be absorbed faster.

Don’t share

Although your mom taught you that sharing is caring, sharing food, drinks or lip balm with others can help spread viruses and bacteria.

Get to sleep

Getting enough sleep during the cold and flu season is just about the most important type of prevention. Precautions such as vaccines and vitamins don’t work very well if the body isn’t rested enough to use them properly. Ideally, a typical body needs 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night to function and protect itself most effectively.

If all these precautions fail, and you become sick, stay home. This will help prevent the further spreading of the illness among coworkers and give your body the rest it needs to fight the infection and get well.

KELLY is a safety and health specialist with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. She can be reached at 800.745.4818 and dkelly@intecweb.com. Joe O’Connor edited this article.