There are plenty of widely accepted ways to ward off colds, and steps to ease symptoms if you get one.
Don't get too friendly: OK, be a party animal and glad-hander -- raising your risk of colds -- or be a grump, skip holiday gatherings and stop shaking hands. Not a pretty choice. But you touch your face five or six times a minute, importing germs from everyone and everything you touch.
Build up your defenses: Exercise, drink lots of fluids, especially hot ones like tea or broth (not dehydrating alcohol and caffeine), eat more fruits and vegetables and get good sleep. Get outside. You catch colds from viruses, not the weather.
Use hand sanitizer: Wash your hands in hot, soapy water at least five times a day, cutting your cold risk in half. Use hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes (clean gym equipment before and after use). Bag your own groceries to cut the number of hands on your food.
There's no cure -- antibiotics won't help -- so aim for comfort and not infecting others. Getting older helps. On average, children, get six to eight colds a year. By age 60, that drops to less than one a year.
Baby yourself: If you're sick, stay home and sleep. Chicken soup really does help ease congestion and bump up your immune system. Drink plenty of fluids, eat regular, balanced meals and gargle with saltwater to treat a sore throat.
Be picky about over-the-counter meds: Treat only symptoms you have, so use multi-symptom medications only if you have all the symptoms. For a stuffy nose, breathe steam or take a decongestant; for a dry, painful cough, use cough suppressant with DM (dextromethorphan); for aches or fever, take acetaminophen or aspirin (no aspirin for kids under 16 to avoid the risk of Reye's syndrome).
Up the humidity: Viruses thrive in dry air, so use a humidifier to discourage them and make breathing easier.
See the doctor: If you have asthma, emphysema or chronic bronchitis, or your symptoms worsen after a week or so, get in to your doctor's office. And avoid waiting room magazines. They've been picked over by a bunch of sick people.
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