fluI have a confession to make: I’m a germaphobe.

While I will shake your hand with a smile, the moment you turn your back, I’ll be whipping out my antibacterial gel and slathering it all over myself as if I just bear-hugged an ebola patient.

Part of the problem is that I catch every virus that goes around.

The other part of the problem is that I’ve had the unique pleasure of interviewing one of the country’s leading germ experts, microbiologist Chuck Gerba, Ph.D., multiple times for health articles. And every conversation with him is a frightening revelation into the amount of illness-causing germs lurking among us.

Also, if I’m shaking hands with a guy, another part of my germaphobe problem is that I used to sit outside a men’s bathroom (don’t ask) and heard first-hand how few of them washed their hands after doing their business. Which is seriously ew.

Anyway, I’m telling you all this so that a) you don’t get offended if (okay, when) you catch me disinfecting myself after touching you and b) to explain why I get my flu shot every year.

I know, a lot of you aren’t into the flu shot. But, I can tell you from personal experience, I used to spend two weeks of every winter holed up in bed with the worst flu ever–no doubt caught from a virus-laden shopping cart handle, grimy ATM buttons or handshake with someone who never turned around, allowing me to covertly sanitize myself.

Then I wised up and started getting flu shots–and I haven’t had a single bout of influenza since.

Okay, so that was the wind-up, here’s the pitch:

Flu shots were just made available to the general public–and I’m planning to get mine. Like most everything in my life, I’m obviously scheduling the shot around my monthly hormone cycle.

If, like me, you’re also planning to get your flu shot and have the ability to schedule it at a certain time in your monthly hormone cycle, then I recommend you get it during your Week 2 (which starts 8 days from the onset of menstruation in a 28-day cycle–sooner in shorter cycles).

On these days in your cycle, high estrogen will lessen the pain of the shot and the post-injection arm soreness. That’s because when your level of estrogen climbs, it blunts pain sensations.

Can’t schedule your influenza vaccine for a high-estrogen day? Or do you reallyreallyreally hate the pain of a flu shot?

Then, ask if your doctor, nurse or pharmacist has an “intradermal needle”, which uses a needle that’s 90% shorter and is injected into the skin rather than the muscle–so there’s less pain.

Also, try coughing. Sounds strange, but several studies (such as this one and this one) suggest that coughing at the moment the needle touches your skin can mask the pain of a shot, possibly by triggering a sudden rise in blood pressure or by simply distracting you.

I actually use this easy “cough trick” every time I get a shot–and it works for me.

If you plan to try it, be sure to give the person administering the shot a heads-up that you’re going to cough when the needle touches your arm. Otherwise, you can startle him or her. And startling someone with a needle isn’t the best move you can make if you don’t like pain.

Hope you stay flu-free in the coming months. And if we’re ever in the same room together and you need antibacterial gel, I’ve got plenty to share!

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