It starts with a single sneezing co-worker. No matter how hard you may try to avoid him, you're trapped together in an airless office with doorknobs, light switches, copy machine buttons and water cooler spigots to pass on the germs. How do you keep from getting sick at work? These sanitary workplace and cold avoidance tips can help keep you from catching the bug.


Keep your hands clean, and avoid touching your face. It's all too easy to touch something in the workplace that may have also been touched by a person carrying the germs that cause colds and flu. Wash your hands regularly throughout the day in hot water, and fight the urge to put your fingers near your eyes, nose and mouth.


Avoid close contact with people who are ill. Sick people do often come in to work. Try not to sit too close or stand within three feet of someone who is displaying symptoms of illness, like congestion and coughing.


Clean communal areas. You may want to discreetly clean any surfaces that you know ill people have touched with an antibacterial wipe before you touch them yourself. Pay special attention to communal areas like the bathroom and kitchen, wiping down sink knobs, toilet handles, stall locks, cabinet pulls, the refrigerator door handle and buttons on the microwave. A sanitary workplace is one of the most important elements of cold and flu avoidance.


Disinfect your personal work space. Telephones, drawer handles and particularly computer keyboards can be hotbeds of germs, just waiting to catch you when your immune system is low. Keep your personal area clean and your co-workers may follow your example.


Don't use antibacterial products too often. It's tempting to go overboard with antibacterial gels and hand wipes, but using these products on a regular basis can actually make you more susceptible to colds and flu. You need regular exposure to germs in small amounts so that your body can work up a strong immune response.


Avoid communal foods. Cold and flu season coincides with the holiday season, when bowls of communal snacks like cookies, candies and dips are common. Bring your own snacks to munch on, just in case your co-workers aren't being careful about washing their hands or accidentally double-dip into that jar of nacho cheese.


Load up on vitamins and drink lots of water. Take extra vitamin C and zinc, and consider supplements like immune-boosting echinacea and bacteria-busting goldenseal. Drinking lots of water, juice, broth and other healthy fluids will help flush germs out of your system before they can make you sick, and thins the mucus that protects sensitive membranes in your eyes, nose and mouth.


Keep your stress levels down. It's easier said than done, especially this time of year, but try to get plenty of sleep and work anxiety-reducing activities like walking, yoga, reading and watching movies into your schedule. Whenever you're feeling stressed, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and cool down a bit.


Consider a flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first line of defense against influenza, offering both a live, active dose that is inhaled through the nostrils or an inactive (killed) dose for patients with weakened immune systems of long-term health problems. The flu vaccine does have side effects, but it's important to remember that influenza can be deadly: 115 U.S. children and teens died from it last flu season, and most of them had not been vaccinated.


Have other ideas for how to maintain a sanitary workplace? Leave us a note in the comments below.


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