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8 Habits Doctors Use to Avoid Colds and Flu

During the winter, doctors see patient after patient with cold and flu symptoms—and gobs of germs. Steal their secrets to avoid getting sick this winter.

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Doctors get sick, too

The average US adult gets three to four colds a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control—and that includes doctors. Even the experts aren’t immune to the nasty viruses. But that doesn’t mean they don’t know a thing or two about reducing their chances of getting a bug and you can steal their healthy secrets and potentially lower the number of sick days you have this season.

doctor administering a shot to African American maniStock/annebaek

They get the flu shot

Getting a seasonal influenza vaccine is an excellent preventive measure for avoiding flu. Clement S. Rose, MD, an internal medicine specialist at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago, says he gets the flu shot each year and recommends it for everyone who’s eligible. “It’s not perfect but overall, it helps in the fight against the potentially deadly infection,” he says.

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They wash up before meals

Viruses such as the cold and flu are passed via physical contact—and you don’t have to shake hands with someone who’s sick; you could just touch a doorknob or a cell phone or a countertop that has their germs, Dr. Rose says. A golden rule all doctors follow is to wash their hands before eating, with either soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizers, he explains.

woman eating healthy food at her deskiStock/Eva Katalin Kondoros

They don’t eat at their desk

You probably don’t even realize how many germs live in and around your workstation. When people eat at a desk, they tend to keep working through lunch, touching their keyboards, phones, and other contaminated surfaces in between bites, passing the germs from their desk to their mouth,  says Michele Neil-Sherwood, DO, founder of the Functional Medical Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Use your lunch hour as a chance to take a true break from work—or at least sneak off long enough to eat your lunch away from your desk, she suggests.

doctors and patients walking outdoorsiStock/TommL

They move more

Internist Kristine Arthur, MD, with the Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, helps keep sickness at bay by staying in good physical shape. “I try to squeeze in exercise like walking throughout the day,” she says. “If there is a bathroom a bit farther down the hall or up one level, try walking to that one. Park further out in the parking lot. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.” Studies show that exercise can help boost your body’s ability to fight off infection. Avoid getting a cold or flu by adopting these habits that naturally boost your immune system.

medical professional using hand sanitizeriStock/nano

They go a little nuts with sanitizer

Working in an office means sharing air, space, and equipment with other, possibly sick, people. Dr. Arthur recommends taking the time to wipe down surfaces in common areas, including microwave buttons, fridge handles, and doorknobs. Sick patients constantly touch reception areas, for example, so regular cleaning helps remove those germs.

doctor working on a laptopiStock/kokouu

They close their office door

Like most people who work in an office, doctors can’t avoid interacting with others, but keeping the door to their office closed when possible helps limit contamination, Dr. Arthur says. It’s not just docs that have good strategies for staying healthy during cold and flu season: Try these 20 secrets to steal from people who never get sick.

person shaking out tablets into their handiStock/Ivan Bajic

They may take zinc tablets

Dr. Rose takes zinc tablets to head off any incoming colds at the pass. “Zinc tablets are also helpful in treating viral infections, especially at the first sign of symptoms,” he says. “Some studies have shown zinc to be effective in reducing the number of days a cold lingers.” Taking zinc may also limit the number of colds a person contracts in a year, though some evidence suggests that zinc lozenges or syrups—which stay in contact with throat longer—may be more effective, reports the Mayo Clinic.

sick woman in bed taking medicineiStock/Barry Murphy

They stay home

No matter how important your job is—and doctors’ duties rank right up there—if you’re sick, stay home, says Dr. Arthur. You need time to rest and recover, and your co-workers would much prefer picking up any slack caused by your absence to contracting your illness. You’ll get better more quickly and be back to work healthy, she says. (Here are 7 rules for calling in sick.)

Sources
Medically reviewed by Michael Spertus, MD, on October 22, 2019