How To Avoid Lurking Cold And Flu Bugs

This time of year, you probably know someone - or more than one someone - who's got a cold or the flu. In fact, maybe you do, yourself!

One reason so many people get sick is because the germs - viruses, really - that cause colds and flu can hang around for along time on many objects we handle every day.

So, on The Saturday Early Show, medcial contributor Dr. Mallika Marshall pointed out various places we encounter cold and flu bugs, and described ways to steer clear of them, to protect yourself.

She says there are hundreds of viruses that can cause cold and flu-like symptoms. The flu virus, influenza, is just one of them.

And you don't catch a cold from being out in the cold or going out with your hair wet. You catch these germs by inhaling them or getting them on your hands and then touching your eyes or nose.

We all know you can get sick by being coughed on or shaking the hand of someone who's already sick, but there are some other common ways you can pick up these viruses that you may not have even thought of.

For starters, the workplace is a prime breeding ground for germs, Marshall says. Many people who are sick still go to work for a variety of reasons, and they can easily contaminate the workplace. The biggest culprits telephones, desktops, and computer keyboards. So, wipe off your phone, keyboard, and desk surface with disinfectant wipes every day. And of course, wash your hands often during the day.

A lot of people share mugs and other utensils at work - a bad idea, Marshall cautions. Many offices have mugs and utensils that everyone shares. They're usually washed out between uses, but they're still being touched and cleaned by potentially dirty hands. So, bring your own mug and use your own utensils whenever possible.

Another place to be wary of? Elevator buttons! It probably doesn't occur to you, but imagine how many people are pushing the "up" and "down" elevator buttons with their dirty hands on a daily basis! And, once you pick up a virus on your finger and touch your eyes, you've been contaminated. So, wait for someone else to push the button - not nice, but practical! Or you can use your elbow.

The natural progression is from elevators to escalators, which are just as bad, Marshall says. Plenty of people are touching elevator handrails every day in shopping malls and elsewhere around the country. Studies have found mucus, saliva, even blood on them. So, if you can avoid touching the handrails, do so - but obviously, don't risk a fall. Instead, you can cover your hands with your sleeves, or wear gloves.

Finally, beware of shopping cart handles! They're touched by all kinds of people, all potentially sick with the flu or a cold. And then think of all of the germy kids who may have been sitting in the cart, drooling and sneezing and coughing all over the handle! There may not be much you can do to avoid touching the handles, but don't touch your face while you're grocery shopping, and use an antiseptic hand gel when you get back to the car.