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The flu season has come down full force in the USA, but even if you can't get a flu shot, there are still things you can do to avoid catching flu. And if you have already come down with the virus, there are things you can do to get well faster.

Throughout the United States, flu is at epidemic levels. Forty-seven of the fifty states report widespread cases of the flu, and hundreds of thousands of people are flooding emergency rooms and hospitals for treatment. Flu vaccine is in short supply everywhere and completely unavailable in some cities, and even standard medications like Tamiflu are hard to find.

If you have not caught the flu yet, however, there are at least five things you can do to avoid coming down with an infection. And even if you have the flu, there are at least seven things you can to do get well faster. Here's the rundown.

Five Things You Can Do to Avoid Catching the Flu

1. Wipe your desk, landline telephone receiver, door knobs, and counter tops every time you use them.

Surprisingly, a single wipe with a clean cloth moistened with water, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control in the Netherlands tell us, removes 99.99% of influenza viruses. A second wipe with a moist clean cloth removes 99.9% of any viruses that may remain.

Water, it turns out, is just as effective for virus control as liquid soap or Clorox (chlorine bleach). Just remember that once a cloth has been used to sanitize a surface, it is no longer clean.

2. Don't worry about surfaces that were contaminated more than 24 hours ago. Focus on cleaning surfaces that have been recently contaminated.

The flu virus remains viable on porous surfaces, like wood, for up to 4 hours. It survives on hard surfaces such as marble, linoleum, and plastic for up to 9 hours. But the virus is undetectable even on untreated surfaces after 24 hours, according to influenza researchers at Cambridge University in the UK.

3. Keep your distance after someone who has the flu sneezes without covering his or her face.

Researchers at Virginia Tech University in the USA tell us that the aerosol released by a sneeze can remain suspended in the air around someone who is sick for up to 24 hours, surviving on the microscopic particles of mucus floating in the air. The scientists estimate that a non-infected person standing in the vicinity of the sneeze breathes in enough flu virus to have a 50% chance of catching the flu in just two minutes.

Someone who spends an hour in the area of a sick person who sneezes inhales 30 times as much virus as is needed to cause the flu. Someone who spends all day (8 hours) in the same room as someone who has the flu inhales nearly 250 times as much virus as is needed to cause him or her to come down with the flu. The sooner you get away from a sneezy, wheezy person who isn't concerned about sanitation, the better. There is far more flu virus in the air than on surfaces in a sick room.

4. Be especially vigilant with your flu precautions just before a cold snap and just after.

The reason the flu virus goes around during the winter rather than during the summer is that almost all strains of influenza are killed by air temperatures over 20 degrees C (68 degrees F). The virus literally goes south during the North Hemisphere's summer to cause epidemics in Africa, Australia, and South America, and then spreads to the North America, Europe, and Asia six months later. 

Freezing air also deactivates the virus. You are most likely to catch the virus when the weather is changing, or in a cool, but not hot, room indoors.

5. Don't be overly concerned about shaking hands during flu season.

It isn't necessary to be antisocial during flu season. The influenza virus doesn't spread easily from person to person during a handshake. Washing your hands in warm water with or without soap before touching your face is enough to protect you from hand-to-hand transmission of the influenza virus.  E. coli (the bacterium associated with fecal material), however, has a 100% transmission rate in hand to hand contact when hands are unwashed.
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