Itís been an unusually brutal cold and flu season so far, and weíve still got several weeks to go before the ďall clearĒ sign can be raised. If youíve managed to escape illness so far, thatís good for you. If you havenít, or youíre a member of a family that was affected, you know first-hand how bad things can get.

Whichever category in which you find yourself, itís time to go on defense, if you havenít already done so.

While looking for something else, I came across a list of tips for staying healthy when everyone else seems determined to share their ailments with you. After reading the first two lines of this list, I immediately quit looking for that ďsomething else,Ē because I figured if I didnít stay well, I wouldnít need it anyway.

If youíre really serious about staying healthy, some of the things youíre obligated to do will make you appear like Adrian Monk of cable television series fame. For starters, remember what you learned in elementary school: cover your face when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands frequently.

Those two are no-brainers, but other tips on the list came as a surprise. One was to avoid touching the first floor button on an elevator, because it carries the most germs. The other buttons could spread germs, too. Give it a stab with your elbow, or wait for someone else to step forward and ask for floors. Thereís another option, though. Perhaps it would be healthier just to take the stairs.

Another tip was to avoid using the pens lying around on the counters of grocery stores, retailers and other places where you might be asked to sign a credit card receipt. Always carry your own pen. Of course, at the stores where your signature is needed on a small screen with a special stylus, youíre out of luck. Perhaps you need to pay cash. Oops, sorry. Youíll find lots of germs on our currency, too. Donít touch your eyes or mouth, and wash hands as soon as possible.

Most of us have seen the popular, bald-headed television personality who avoids shaking hands, preferring instead to touch closed fists. The fact is, though, we canít always avoid shaking hands. Doing so can be very awkward, and it may even offend people. We canít always take the stairs. And we have to pay for our purchases somehow. But the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a concise way to stop the spread of germs at home, work and school: take care to cover your mouth and nose, clean your hands often, and remind your children to practice healthy habits, too. They are frequently the way the germs of others find their way into your home.

So, letís review:

1. If youíre already down but not out, cough or sneeze into a tissue and then throw it away. Cover your cough or sneeze in the bend of your elbow if you do not have a tissue. Then, clean your hands, and do so every time you cough or sneeze.

2. When you wash your hands ó frequently, using soap and warm water ó lather up for 15 to 20 seconds. Thatís about the same time it takes to sing the ďHappy BirthdayĒ song twice.

Now, Iíd be inclined to do this silently, but why not just burst out into song? If youíre in a public restroom, the excitement might be as contagious as the stomach flu, and you might find people joining in, as waiters do at restaurant tables.

Meanwhile, many health professionals are urging adults to consider ó in consultation with their own physicians ó whether they need boosters for some of the diseases for which they received immunizations decades ago. Itís my opinion that all children should be immunized for whatever diseases that immunizations are available, and I base that conclusion on the published advice of countless medical professionals. I trust them much more than I do so-called advocates who achieved celebrity in the entertainment world, and cite long-discredited research and an unfortunate personal situation as their science.

Hereís hoping that youíre playing defense this winter. Itís only common sense. Itís not fun being sick.

Gene Deason retired as editor of the Brownwood Bulletin in 2012. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at