Banish colds, the flu this season

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Americans suffer from one billion colds each year. That's not counting the flu. (WLS)

You know the drill: Runny nose, sneezing, coughing.

Americans suffer from one billion colds each year. That's not counting the flu.

So how can you keep from getting either one this season?

Here's what you can do:

First, wash your hands often. A good rule of thumb, wash up anytime you shake someone's hand or touch an object. There are 1,500 bacteria on each one square centimeter of skin. Use warm water and plain soap and wash for at least 20 seconds.

Another tip, exercise. One study found women who walked for 12 months were the most resistant to colds in the final quarter of the year.

Also, get the flu vaccine, but if you do end up with the flu, you might want to skip the anti-virals to treat it.

"Studies have shown that the anti-virals are not really that effective," said Dr. Larry Altshuler, an internist at Southwestern Regional Medical Center.

Try elderberry syrup instead. Some studies have suggested it might reduce swelling in the mucous membranes and shorten the duration of flu symptoms by about three days.

Also, quit smoking. It raises your risk of developing infections by decreasing your body's immune response and changing your respiratory tract.

Lastly, clean your purse, which are breeding grounds for germs. Experts say put away your cloth handbag for the winter and use one that's easy to wipe down, like leather.

About 200,000 Americans are hospitalized each year because of problems with the flu and nearly $10 million are spent on hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits.

If you would like more information, check out the medical breakthroughs on the web at
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