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Win the Cold (and Flu) War

Fighting the flu doesn't have to break the bank. Here are eight effective and inexpensive ways to protect yourself during the upcoming cold and flu season.

Fortunately, a swine flu vaccine will be ready as soon as next month. Still, 36,000 Americans die from the "regular" flu each year. Keep influenza at bay with these tried-and-true (and cheap) cold and flu strategies:

1) Get Vaccinated Now
You can at least rest easy knowing you won't spread any virus to children and elderly, the two age groups most susceptible to flu-related deaths. "[Vaccinations] may also reduce the risk of other potential causes of illness, like cardiovascular disease," says Mark Moyad. M.D., director of preventive medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center. Get vaccinated early, since developing an immunity takes up to four weeks. And don't get bamboozled into paying more than $50 for it. Moyad advises you go to a free clinic or local drug store (Pharmacies like Walgreens and Duane Reade will administer the shot).

2) Smear on Some Gel
A small amount of antibacterial hand cream (like Purell) before and after workouts will protect you from germ-covered gym equipment. But be wary of cheaper, less effective gels. "Turn the package over and look for at least 62 percent ethyl alcohol as its active ingredient," Moyad says. "Anything less than that won't kill viruses."

3) Sweeten Those Coughs
Honey beats dextromethorphan, the key drug in over-the-counter cough suppressants, according to a recent Penn State study. "If you feel something coming on, taking one to two teaspoons of honey turns out to have an antimicrobial effect," Moyad says. "Plus, it's soothing when it goes down your throat."

4) Clear Your Nose
Buy a sterile saline nasal mist (like Simply Saline), to flush out the nasal passages, one of the most common sources of entry for colds and flu. Use it morning and night, or whenever you're leaving an area that seems especially germy.

5) Grab Some Supplements
Remember this about supplements: zinc is overrated, Vitamin C is underrated. "One of the toxicities of zinc is a permanent loss of smell and taste," says Moyad. In June, Zicam recalled its nasal gels for this very reason. "Vitamin C is incredibly safe and cheap. [A 250-cound 500 mg bottle will only cost you about $7.] High dosages of Vitamin C could potentially reduce the risk of pneumonia-the biggest concern of cold and flu season since it could be lethal." Another immune system builder is Vitamin D. A study this year found that people with low levels of the "sunshine vitamin" were 36 percent more likely to get the flu.

6) Gargle, Gargle, Gargle
Swishing with water several times a day can help decrease changes of getting a cold by 36 percent, says a 2005 Japanese study (a separate report suggests that gargling with green tea may enhance the effectiveness of the flu vaccine).

7) Go for the Soup
We know it's a cliche, but chicken soup is not just nutritious. The warm, steamy liquid is also a natural nasal decongestant. Hot tea works, too. But it won't make grandma as happy.

8) Score More Shut-Eye
People who sleep fewer than seven hours a night are three times more likely to catch a cold, according to research from Carnegie Mellon University. How do you get more sleep if you've already caught the bug? Try Vicks' new NyQuil Less Drowsy. It has the same multi-symptom relief but with a less-sedating antihistamine, so you wake up feeling better but less groggy.

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