For some people, coming down with a cold or the flu means a few days on the couch with streaming videos and chicken noodle soup. But if you have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), catching a bug carries a lot more risk. Infections often trigger COPD flares, which can land you in the hospital. Fortunately, you can take many steps to ward off harmful germs. And if you do get sick, swift action can prevent your symptoms from worsening. Here’s your germ protection plan: Stay away from sick people. Move away from anyone who’s obviously coughing or sneezing. Of course, you can’t spot every sniffler in a crowd. So it may be best to avoid large groups of people during flu season, especially its peak in January and February. Cover your mouth. When you cough or sneeze, use a tissue if you have one. If you don’t, cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Throw the tissue in the trash; then wash your hands. Wash up. Speaking of scrubbing, do it thoroughly and often. Wet your hands completely under a hot or cold faucet. Turn off the tap and lather up with soap. Don’t skip the backs, under your nails, and between your fingers. Scrub for at least 20 seconds—that’s two times through the “happy birthday” song—then rinse and dry on a clean towel or in the air. Not near soap and water? Carry an alcohol-based rub with you. It’ll work in a pinch. Keep your hands off. Even with all that scrubbing, avoid touching your fingers to your nose, mouth and eyes. Bacteria and viruses often spread when a person touches a contaminated surface and then his or her own face. See your doctor regularly. Don’t miss appointments, and do follow all instructions for staying healthy. Take your medications as prescribed. Ask questions if you don’t understand any of your medical team’s guidance. Call your doctor as soon as you find yourself developing signs of an infection, such as changes in the color or amount of your mucus, a more severe cough, wheezing, or more difficulty breathing than usual. Your doctor may start you on a course of antibiotics or antiviral medications to fight the bug. Check your medications. Some recent studies suggest taking inhaled corticosteroids for COPD increases your risk of developing pneumonia. The drugs may suppress your immune system, increasing your risk of infection. If you take them, ask your doctor if you are taking the lowest effective dose. And call your doctor right away if your COPD symptoms show signs of worsening. Don’t stop or change the dose of your COPD medicines without talking with your doctor first. Get vaccinated. People with COPD should get a flu shot each year to protect against the new flu season’s strains. It’s usually best to do this in September or October, when the vaccine first becomes available. Also ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine. This one- or two-time shot prevents one form of pneumonia and its complications. Listen up. Watch, read and listen to news and government reports about epidemics of flu or other illnesses. Follow all public health advisories. Practice healthy habits. Taking care of your body can help your immune system stay strong enough to fight off infections. Eat a nutritious diet, drink plenty of water and other fluids, manage stress, and try to get regular exercise. Check with your doctor if you have any questions about steps you should take to protect your lungs—and your health.