If you want to lower your odds of getting the flu - which according to the Ministry of Health infects 10-20 per cent of New Zealanders every year - work on improving your hand-washing technique.

Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, using soap and clean water, either warm or cold. No watch or tech-device timer handy? Just hum the song "Happy Birthday to You" twice, from start to finish. Be sure to wash your fingertips, between your fingers and under your nails - not just the palm and back of your hands. Then rinse and dry.

Sounds simple, but 2013 research from the Journal of Environmental Health notes that only 5 per cent of people wash their hands the right way, and for long enough, to kill the germs and bacteria that reside on hands. (That data came from researchers who watched more than 3700 people at the sinks in public restrooms.)

Over the years, various studies have found that, at any given moment, hundreds if not thousands of germs, including E. coli, populate people's hands. People touch something that has germs on it - a doorknob or a handrail, for instance - and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth before washing their hands.

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Shaking hands or hugging can help the germs spread from person to person. Preparing food or drinks with unwashed hands can do the same.

These germs can also lead to colds, lung infections, diarrhoea, hepatitis, meningitis and more. But only 20 seconds of good hand washing - done frequently, especially during cold and flu season - can help stem the spread. If water isn't available, an alcohol-based hand sanitiser will work.