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The steps have been given by Joanne C Langan, PhD, RN, coordinator of clinical resources at the Saint Louis University School of Nursing and a member of the university's Pandemic Response Planning Committee.
"These are common-sense steps everyone should take throughout the year. But it's especially important now that winter's here and cold and flu season is under way," said Langan.
She added: "It's all about respecting yourself in order to stay healthy -- and respecting others so they can be healthy as well. No one wants to get sick or to pass along a cold or the flu to someone else."
Here are seven simple steps that according to Langan are essential to staying well this winter and avoid spreading cold or flu germs to others.
1. Get a flu shot: This is undoubtedly the most important way to avoid getting the flu and to prevent or contain an outbreak of the illness killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. Flu shots are predominantly important for people at high risk for serious complications from influenza -- including young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
2. Wash your hands often: A study published in a British medical journal earlier this year found that regular hand washing, with soap and water, was more effective than drugs in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses such as the flu. And if you can't wash with soap and water, alcohol-based gels and wipes can be used. The gel should be rubbed until it's dry.
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth: Langan said that these are "major points of entry" for all kinds of germs, particularly those that cause colds and the flu.
4. Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
5. Practice other good health habits: In order to keep your immune system as strong as possible, get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water and other fluids and learn how to manage your stress.
6. Cover your nose and mouth: If you're about to sneeze or cough, put your hand or a handkerchief over your nose and mouth -- or sneeze or cough into your sleeve. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
7. If you're sick -- stay home: If you're running a fever or sneezing or coughing a lot, try and stay at home. You'll help prevent others from getting infected.
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