Flu in the Air
Influenza viruses thrive in late fall and early winter and spread from person to person through the air, particularly cold, dry air. Family gatherings, holiday crowds and even Santa's lap provide plenty of transmission opportunities. What to do: Steer clear of coughing commuters, sneezing shoppers and ailing aunts. Hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent ethanol (also called ethyl alcohol) is very effective against flu.
Cold Viruses on the Remote
Are you constantly clicking between football and "A Christmas Story"? A 2011 study found that the TV remote is one of the germiest items in the house. Rhinoviruses, which cause about a third of all colds in adults, can be resistant to hand sanitizer and can survive on hard surfaces for four days. What to do: Wash your hands often, try not to touch your nose or eyes, and if you're really worried, hide the remote.
Bacteria at the Buffet
Nasty bacteria called Clostridium perfringens cause about a million cases of food poisoning each year, and they can flourish in catered foods, especially meats, that sit out a long time. After two hours at room temperature, bacteria in food double every 20 minutes. What to do: At parties, pay attention to how long cooked food has been sitting. At home, refrigerate leftovers within two hours and freeze or toss them after three days.
Lice in Santa's Lid
Pediculus humanus capitis isn't on anyone's wish list, but you're asking for it if you pop Frosty's old silk hat on your head without knowing where it's been. Lice don't hop or fly, so they have to be within crawling distance to hitch a ride. What to do: Wash suspicious items in hot water or seal them in a plastic bag for two weeks before wearing.