Neither rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night but the cold or flu is another thing! How did you survive the cold and flu season (CDC claims historically peaks during February)? I hope better than I and some of my fellow co-workers did! The reality is that data management, mail design, printing, production, mail entry, and delivery are affected if the people behind those processes are sick!

I cringe considering the germs I will encounter at airports, hotels, and other public areas during my upcoming trips to association meetings and the National Postal Forum in Orlando! Did you know that cell phones have 18 times more bacteria than toilet handles? Germs have long been the topic of concern; even The Washington Post published an article on November 22, 1896 discussing the germs on postage stamps. Good thing we've come a long way from licking water-activated postage, but we've still got a lot to consider if we're going to try to stay healthy and keep the mail moving.

My sister Jan, the RN, and WebMD helped me to understand the difference between cold (transmitted through touch) and flu (transmitted by air) upper respiratory illnesses: no cure for a cold that should resolve itself in seven to ten days; antiviral drugs are prescribed for flu. Check out WebMD for a great symptom chart - know the difference for more prompt treatment to get back to the mail!

Now that we're focused on germs, how long do they live?

Microbes can live on household surfaces for hundreds of years, however most don't, and some like HIV live only a few seconds and die almost immediately when exposed to sunlight. A virus needs a host to reproduce and the life span is shorter than bacteria (which reproduce on their own). Bacteria and virus cannot live on dry surfaces with less than 10% humidity; move to the Southwest!

The CDC states that human flu virus can survive on surfaces between two and eight hours and are killed best by heat (167 - 212° F); even the Southwest doesn't get that hot! The Mayo Clinic reports that cold related germs seem to live longer on hard surfaces than on fabric or other soft surfaces.

Remedies: While there is no cure for the common cold, Americans spend at least $4.2 billion each year on over-the-counter products searching for one.

Remember your mom asking, "Did you wash your hands?" The Mayo Clinic suggests frequent hand washing with soap and water, and to stop yourself if you are about to rub your eyes or face unless you've washed your hands. Ottawa University reminds people to wash palms and finger tips for approximately 20 seconds (length of time to sing the Alphabet Song according to Puffs°) and especially around rings as bacteria can hide under them. If you haven't taken your wedding ring off since that special day (maybe because you can't anymore) well, not much I can recommend.

Hand sanitizers don't kill 99% of germs; research showed actual percentage at 46% to 60%! However, when a sink, soap, and water are not available, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer brands containing at least 60% alcohol.

Night-time Vicks VapoRub on your chest; my Mom even slathered it on my feet, covered by a flannel neck cloth and socks! Moms are still doing this with reported success - especially on children.

Vitamin C, popularized by Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, is now reported to reduce the duration of a cold by only a matter of hours. However, people under extreme stress experience better results from taking vitamin C - does working in the mailing industry fall into that category?

Echinacea in laboratory studies reduced inflammation and appeared to boost the immune system, but use outside the lab has not provided evidence to support prescriptions.

Zinc taken within 24 hours onset of cold symptoms can reduce the suffering by about one day BUT to me, the tablets taste BAD and caused stomach upset. Considering dosage is recommended every two hours I'll pass on this one.

Honey in tea: the warm tea offers comfort, but caffeine shrinks blood vessels in the nose and could make you feel more congested. (Note: Children under age 1 risk botulism from honey)

Marshmallow (Althea officinalis) and Licorice root have been used to treat cough and sore throat but licorice root can negatively interact with some medicines and effects blood pressure.

There are many more remedies I came across, but the bottom line is: A single sneeze can travel up to three feet - so cover your mouth to avoid christening your co-workers and associates, and wash your hands before you touch your face to reduce the germs and potent cold or flu.

The next time I get a cold, maybe I should just think positively as one cough-drop manufacturer suggests by printing "A Little Pep Talk in Every Drop" on the lozenge wrapper: "Get through it," "Seize the Day," and "Be Unstoppable".