Keep germs to yourself and help prevent the spread of the flu

People can help curb the spread of viruses with a few simple hygiene tips.

When flu season is in full swing, it can feel challenging to stay germ-free and healthy. This winter, University of Alabama at Birmingham experts will frequently share tips and healthy habits that can help prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.

Most experts believe the flu virus spreads quickly when flu-infected people cough, sneeze or talk, sending droplets into the air. Once airborne, these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, sharing the flu virus with them. 

However, there is an easy way to keep germs contained when one has the flu or cold-like symptoms.

“When you sneeze or cough, the best thing to do is to do it into a clean tissue or into the sleeve of your shirt,” said Carlie Stein, M.D., clinical assistant professor at the UAB Medicine-Leeds clinic. “Proper etiquette and hygiene will help prevent the spread of viruses and illnesses, and anything you can do to keep your hands clean will help as well.”

Proper coughing and sneezing etiquette helps keep those close to you from getting the flu and helps limit the spread of germs to other surfaces. Once the flu virus has landed on a surface or object, people can get the flu through touching the item and then their face. This is especially important over the busy holiday travel season, with thousands of people touching door handles, escalators, elevator buttons, airplane seats and more. 

For more information on how to combat the flu this season, visit

To complement proper sneezing and coughing decorum, washing one’s hands often and accurately will help with the containment of viruses like the flu.

“Wash your hands as much as you can — we always recommend handwashing before you eat anything, before you make food for other people and after you use the restroom,” said Caroline Cartledge, R.N., instructor with UAB’s School of Nursing. “I wash my hands anytime I touch a doorknob; if there is hand-sanitizer around, I always use it. People touch their faces more often than they realize. Every time you touch a door handle and then scratch your nose, you are susceptible to contracting viruses like influenza.”

Cartledge shares that washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds with soap and water is key, but the friction you create by rubbing your hands together and forming a lather is what removes microbes from the skin. (See a demonstration for how to wash your hands here.) She reminds others to not focus just on the palms and fingertips when washing hands, but to focus also on the tops of the hands, fingernails and wrists. 

More information on how to combat the flu season is available online at