8 Healthy Secrets That Keep Doctors, Nurses from Getting Sick

Doctor washing his hands.

How are doctors and nurses not constantly sick? They come in contact with sick people on a daily basis, and yet they don’t catch every cold or flu. What’s their secret?

It turns out there are a number of ways health professionals avoid catching a cold. Whether by boosting their immunity or escaping germs, the pros know how to survive cold and flu season.

The worst of the flu season is behind us, but springtime colds continue to circulate throughout the country. A healthy person can overcome a typical cold in about seven days, but it can take longer for anyone with an asbestos-related disease. An average cold can easily turn into pneumonia for people with pulmonary disease.

In addition to the following tips from health professionals, don’t forget to take good care of your health by eating well, drinking lots of water and getting plenty of sleep.

Skip the Niceties

It may be socially customary to shake hands when greeting someone, but if they’re sick, it’s a surefire way to catch the virus they’re carrying.

“Doctors tend to be very cautious about hand shaking,” says Dr. Terri Remy, medical director of Primary Care Alexandria in Virginia. If someone is sick, don’t shake their hand or give them a hug. Avoid any close contact. If you do happen to touch someone with a cold, wash your hands immediately and take extra care of your health to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.

Think About Gut Health

Approximately 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract.

This means your gut health is important to immune function. Taking probiotic supplements, eating low-sugar yogurt and drinking kombucha (a fermented tea that contains probiotics) will balance out good bacteria in your gut.

Eating a healthy diet low in sugar and fat and high in whole foods like vegetables and fruits will maintain digestive health. Avoid processed foods and limit alcohol consumption. Take a quality multivitamin and make sure it contains zinc and vitamin C because these chemicals can reduce the duration of colds.

If Someone Touched It, Clean It!

The common cold is caused by viruses, primarily rhinoviruses, which can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Cleaning surfaces regularly with disinfecting wipes will limit the spread of viruses.

Make sure to clean anything someone may have touched in the home or office, such as cell phones, doorknobs, light switches, appliances, countertops, faucets, coffeemakers, water fountains, keyboards and printers.

Sing “Happy Birthday”

It takes approximately 20 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water to fully disinfect your hands.

Rather than counting to 20, sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands to ensure you’ve scrubbed long enough. Make sure to clean under your nails and turn the faucet off while you wash to save water.The importance of washing your hands frequently cannot be understated. Doctors and nurses vigorously wash their hands after interacting with each patient.

Watch Your Hands

Even if you’ve cleaned every surface imaginable and sang “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands, remain mindful of what your hands touch — especially your face.

If your hands are harboring germs and you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, there’s a significant chance germs will enter your body through these orifices. Be extra careful to avoid touching surfaces widely used by the public, such as hand railings, water fountains and elevator buttons.

After public interaction, avoid nail biting, picking your teeth and wiping your eyes, nose or mouth.

Take an Exhale

When a sick person coughs or sneezes, potentially infectious droplets are propelled into the atmosphere and can travel farther than previously thought.

If you’re around someone who is sick and they cough or sneeze, don’t breathe in deep. Instead, take a long exhale as you walk away from the area. Wait a few minutes before returning to the area, giving time for the infectious droplets to settle.

Embrace the Outdoors

The air inside closed spaces recirculates, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to find a host.

“One reason we get sick when it’s colder is because we’re sharing more inside air,” says Shawn Mueller, registered nurse and director of infection prevention and control at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital. Taking yourself outdoors or opening windows during cold and flu season will reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria. If you work in an office and cannot take your work outside or open windows, consider using an air purifier that neutralizes or kills airborne pathogens.

Opt for Gentle Exercise

Rigorous exercise can compromise the immune system for up to three days after working out.

“After moderate to intense exercise — say, running 40 to 60 minutes without stopping — there is a 72-hour window during which your body is severely distressed, and that’s a time when people are susceptible to getting sick,” says Dr. Scott Weiss, a New York-based physical therapist who treats professional athletes and Olympians.

Conversely, gentle exercise is good for immunity, so not all workouts will make you susceptible to catching colds. If you have an event or vacation coming up that you don’t want to be sick for, avoid vigorous exercise for a week or two before.

  1. CDC. (2015, February 27). Common colds: Protect yourself and others. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/
  2. Dizikes, P. (2014, April 8). In the cloud: How coughs and sneezes float farther than you think. Retrieved from http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2014/coughs-and-sneezes-float-farther-you-think
  3. Katz, B.P. (2015, January 14). 9 ways doctors and nurses avoid getting sick. Retrieved from http://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/how-doctors-avoid-sickness
  4. Patz, A. (n/a). 20 surprising ways to prevent colds and flu. Retrieved from http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20752945,00.html
  5. Redfearn, S. (2013, July 17). Stay healthy this year: 6 tips for avoiding cold and flu. Retrieved from http://symptoms.webmd.com/cold-and-flu-map-tool/avoid-cold-flu
  6. University of Utah Health Sciences Radio. (2014, January 21). Doctors tips and tricks to avoid getting sick. Retrieved from http://healthcare.utah.edu/the-scope/shows.php?shows=0_5yqtuzmd
  7. Vighi, G., Marcucci, F., Sensi, L., Di Cara, G., & Franti, F. (2008). Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clinical and Experimental Immunology, 153(Suppl 1):3-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x

Joining the team in February 2008 as a writer and editor, Michelle Whitmer has translated medical jargon into patient-friendly information at Asbestos.com for more than eight years. Michelle is a registered yoga teacher, a member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine, and was quoted by The New York Times on the risks of asbestos exposure. If you have a story idea for Michelle, please email her at michelle@asbestos.com.

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