The flu (influenza) can occur anytime, but appears mostly in the fall and winter. Chilly weather keeps lots of people indoors at the same time, and the holiday season brings together family members of all ages, increasing the probability for sickness. The flu can leave you suffering from fever, chills, and body aches, and can become so severe as to warrant hospitalization. Prevent the flu this winter by getting your yearly flu shot, practicing good hygiene, and keeping your body healthy with diet and exercise.
EditProtecting Yourself from the Flu Virus
- Get the flu shot every year. Every person over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot every year, usually in the early fall before flu season begins. There are a few different flu shots available, so ask your doctor or pharmacist which vaccine is right for you. Get your flu shot at a doctor’s office, clinic, pharmacy, college health center, or even in some schools and workplaces.
- Last year’s shot won’t protect you from this year’s flu – get a shot every year.
- Talk to your doctor before getting the shot if you’re allergic to eggs, have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or are not feeling well the day you are supposed to get the shot.
- Wash your hands frequently. Wash your hands any time you cough, sneeze, or blow your nose, after using the restroom, before eating or preparing food, after caring for someone who is sick, after changing a diaper, and after touching garbage. Use proper hand washing technique:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (hot or cold). Turn off the water tap, then apply soap to your hands.
- Rub your hands together to lather up the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, up to your elbows, and underneath your fingernails. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds, then rinse the soap off under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or an air dryer.
- Use hand sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands. If you don’t have access to soap or clean, running water, use hand sanitizer at times when you would otherwise wash your hands. Your hand sanitizer should be made of at least 60% alcohol. Place some sanitizer in the palm of your hand and rub your hands together, rubbing the product over your whole hands and fingers until your hands feel dry.
- Hand sanitizers are not as good at removing germs as washing your hands. Wash your hands whenever you have the option.
- Hand sanitizers don’t work well if your hands are greasy or visibly dirty.
- Keep hand sanitizer out of reach of children – do not let children swallow it.
- Don’t touch your face. Avoid touching your face, eyes, mouth, or nose unless you wash your hands first. Illness is spread easily this way. Carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer in your purse, briefcase, or backpack to use first if you need to touch your face.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. Sneeze and cough into a tissue, then throw the tissue away. This is cleaner than sneezing into your hands, and can help prevent the spread of flu. If you don’t have a tissue with you, sneeze or cough into the crook of your elbow.
EditMinimizing Germs at Home and Work
- Avoid people who are sick. If possible, avoid being around someone who has the flu. Stay away from sick friends or neighbors until they’re well. Stay out of crowds during the peak of flu season, in possible – being in public transportation, auditoriums, and places where people congregate make it easy for flu to spread.
- Stay home from work or school if you’re sick so you don’t contaminate others. You can return to school or work 24 hours after your fever returns to normal, but continue to practice good hand washing hygiene.
- Take precautions around sick family members. If someone in your household is sick, consider sleeping in a different room from them if you usually share a bedroom. Be sure to wash your hands after you interact with them, and clean any cups, cutlery, or dishes they use thoroughly.
- People can still be contagious for up to a week after they’re feeling better.
- Clean your home and workspace regularly. Use disinfecting sprays or wipes to clean surfaces that can harbor flu germs. Clean your bathrooms, bedroom surfaces, wood and glass tables, office desks, and other areas that you use or touch often. Keep a container of disinfecting wipes at your office, and wipe down your desk, phone, and keyboard every morning before you start work.
- Sanitize your phone. Phones harbor many germs because you use them so often and they sit around in lots of places, exposed to viruses. Use a disinfecting wipe or slightly soapy rag to carefully clean your phone every other day during flu season.
- Of course, do not submerge your phone in water.
- Change your hand towels often. Because you will be washing your hands more frequently, you will need to change your communal towels more often so that they do not remain damp and become a vector for disease. Replace the towel every couple days or if it is damp when you go to reuse it. Keep hand towels separate so that each family member has their own towel.
EditPracticing Healthy Habits
- Sleep 7-9 hours a night. Getting adequate rest helps your immune system perform at its best. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. Try techniques to improve your sleep habits:
- Set a regular bedtime and wake up time.
- Exercise regularly (but not within 3 hours of bedtime so it doesn’t keep you up).
- Avoid caffeine after 4pm.
- Avoid napping during the day.
- Relax before bed with a warm bath or reading.
- Save your bedroom for sleeping – don’t watch TV in bed. Sleep in a cool, dark room.
- Eat a nutritious diet. Eating a nutritious and varied diet helps your immune system work. Think about eating a “colorful” diet – one high in fresh fruits and vegetables of many different colors. This can help you get lots of vitamins and nutrients to keep your body healthy.
- Drink enough water. Stay hydrated to maintain your overall health and avoid getting sick. In general, men should drink around 13 cups of water and other fluids daily (about 3 liters), and women should aim for 9 cups (2.2 liters). Drink more if you sweat a lot. Water, juice, and tea count towards your fluids.
- Stay active. Aerobic workouts are those that increase your heart rate and breathing rate. Walking, slow jogging, biking, and swimming are good options. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for optimal health. This won’t stop the flu, but it can keep you healthy and make recovery easier.
- You may have to get creative to exercise during the winter. Get a gym membership, go dancing, use workout videos at home, find an indoor pool – do what you can to stay active in the winter.
- Decrease your stress level. The stress hormone cortisol negatively affects numerous body systems – including your immune system. Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing, taking a walk – anything that helps you relax. If you have a stressful lifestyle due to work or family, practice mindfulness meditation or learn stress management skills. While it won’t stop
- The flu shot cannot give you the flu. Some people experience mild flu-like symptoms like low fever or body aches after getting the shot, which is just your body reacting to making antibodies. Any side effects from the shot are significantly milder and shorter-lasting than getting the flu.
- Getting the flu shot also protects others from getting sick – the more people who get the flu shot, the fewer people will get influenza every year. This can save lives!
- Healthcare workers and those who work with children are more likely to get the flu or other contagious illnesses. It’s important to practice excellent hand-washing hygiene.