Avoiding Colds and Flu
(compiled and written by Mike Harrison)

What happens if you've been booked for a job and then you come down with a cold before the session? "Don't get sick" is what many of us have heard in response to that question. But while we mere mortals simply don't have total control over it, there are some ways to help avoid catching a cold.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health), cold viruses can infect us by either of these two methods:

  • 1. Touching your skin or environmental surfaces, such as telephones and stair rails, that have cold germs on them and then touching your eyes or nose; and
  • 2. Inhaling microscopic droplets of mucus full of cold germs from the air.

You'll notice that the first item deals with actual contact. We don’t realize we're doing it, but we all wind up touching or rubbing our eyes, nose and/or mouth at some point during the day. But consider all the OTHER things that we touch and handle - things that have already been touched and handled by others (even young children who wipe their runny noses with their hands. Yuk.

Telephones; stair rails; pull-and-push handles on the doors of the schools, stores and businesses; shopping carts and hand baskets of supermarkets and other stores (some stores now offer disinfectant wipes at the location at which you pick up your cart or basket); countertops; money (bills and coins); push-buttons on ATMs and other devices; products on store shelves; books and other items at a library; equipment at a gym. And so many more, it’s hard to keep track.

Especially think about money - and how many hands any given bill or coin must have passed through before getting to yours. And, when your kids come home from school, they bring with them the germs from the things THEY have touched and handled during the day.

Yeah, maybe it's gross. But it needs to be mentioned because being gross is what makes it important. Of course, touching and handling these everyday items, for the most part, can't be avoided. Just try to remain aware of this and keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth whenever possible until you can give them a good washing.

There are now several brands of sanitizing lotion, which have become quite popular. And, while the car would seem a great place to keep a bottle of this stuff, cars can get too hot inside, which isn't good for the lotion, according to the manufacturers. Those lotions might sanitize, but I don't know if they remove dirt (the stuff other than germs). So I think washing is better. It is said that the proper length of time to spend washing your hands well is to sing two verses of `Happy Birthday' (in the proper tempo, of course).

And, washing well means not just to rub your hands together, but also to wash each finger, especially including the fingertips. This can be done quickly enough, but be thorough or the time spent is wasted. Then, make sure to completely rinse your hands.

Those that use the toilet and then just run some water and quickly rinse their hands without using any soap may as well not even bother, because that does little more than spread the germs a little further over their hands.If you must wash your hands in a public restroom, first check before washing whether you can get a paper towel without having to touch anything (such as a crank or lever, etc). If you're sure you can just grab a towel right away, wash your hands. If you can’t get a towel without touching a crank or lever, get your towel(s) first and stick them in your pocket. Then, wash your hands. But don't turn off the water until after you've grabbed the towel and dried your hands first. Then, keeping the towel in your hand, use it to turn off the water. Use it again to open the door. If you can hold the door open with your elbow or foot while you toss the towel to a nearby wastebasket, do so. Otherwise throw the towel away after you've left the restroom.

This fact cannot be stressed enough: The object that has the highest concentration of germs is typically the inside door handle of a public (or office) restroom. So definitely use a towel to open the door upon leaving the restroom.

It's not necessary to become obsessive with this, just mindful. These are just a few little things to remember, but they easily become second nature if you really want them to. you WILL notice a difference after some months go by. A typical disclaimer holds true, however: results may vary. I live alone and I've gotten very few colds over the past few years. Of course, trying to eat right and get enough rest is important, too. I prefer the prevention or avoidance method because I like taking as few medications as possible, because some of them may have side effects and/or contain ingredients (such as caffeine) that aren't good for voice talent. ALWAYS read the labels of things you put into your body.

For those who use Lysol® or other such spray to disinfect surfaces around the house, you should know that despite how easy it appears to be in their TV spots, if you carefully read the instructions, to properly disinfect a surface, you must spray it until it is wet, and then it must remain wet for at least ten minutes and air-dry before the surface can be considered disinfected. Don’t be fooled: it’s not just a quick shot of spray and you’re good to go. Another misconception: Lysol® Disinfectant is NOT meant to disinfect the air, as the mist is too heavy and will fall immediately to the floor. If you feel you must use it to ‘clean’ the air, go ahead, but you’ll wind up spending a fortune on the stuff because you’ll use a LOT of it. Even most of the air fresheners on the market don’t really ‘clean’ the air; they just add fragrance to it. To actually get rid of odors, you must remove what is CAUSING the odor.

Second on the list of ways we can catch a cold is by unwittingly breathing in the germs of others. Enclosed or crowded spaces are the best places for this. If I'm walking in a crowd and someone ahead of me sneezes or coughs, I immediately exhale and then hold my breath for a couple of seconds until I've walked beyond where the sneeze occurred. If it sounds crazy, keep in mind that the whole idea is to help prevent catching someone else’s cold or flu.Sometimes, though, it's hard to tell if you've got a cold or an allergy. Here's great information on distinguishing the two, as well as information on the various medications for treating each: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/aha/aha_deconan_sha.htm

Thanks for reading, and stay well!

(Mike Harrison has been a voice actor since 1977 and operates out of his own studio, by recording and delivering via email or ftp, or live via Source-Connect or ISDN. His website is www.spokensuccess.com.)

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