Sure, you’ve got virus-blocking tissues and a gallon of hand sanitizer sitting on your counter, but you may not have heard about these other proven, practical ways to duck the nasty viruses that cause colds and flus that seem to sweep through homes and offices in the winter months. To help fight cold and flu germs try these smart solutions.

Salt-free gargle. While gargling with salt water can help soothe a sore throat, gargling with plain water may help prevent illness in the first place. In one randomized, controlled trial of 387 healthy adults, the group that gargled with plain water for 15 seconds three times a day had 40 percent fewer colds than those who didn’t gargle. The researchers think plain water helps to wash away an enzyme in our bodies that can make us more susceptible to germs.

Stop the spread. We’ve all heard the advice to cover a cough or sneeze to prevent spreading germs, but that won’t work if we’re covering with our hands, which is the way 64 percent of us catch a cough, according to a recent study presented at the 2010 Conference on Emerging Infectious Diseases in Atlanta. Experts advise using a tissue or handkerchief, or if caught unawares, the crook of an elbow.

Down some D. A study published in June 2010 in the journal PLoS One found that taking extra vitamin D during the winter may help protect against respiratory tract infections. Study author James Sabetta, MD, an associate clinical professor at Yale University Medical School in New Haven, CT, suggests that adults take 2,000 to 4,000 IU daily for added protection.