Flu season is here, and that means millions of men, women, and kids will become ill – some of them seriously. In fact, during flu season, about 200,000 people are hospitalized in the U.S., and about 36,000 people die as a result of their infections, according to data from Harvard Medical School. Flu (or influenza) is a viral infection, and each year, there are several strains or “varieties” of the flu virus. The good news: Most viruses are of one or two primary strains, and each year, vaccines are developed to combat those strains to help prevent infections. Still, not everyone gets a vaccine, and even those who are vaccinated may already be infected or may be infected by a strain that’s not “covered” by that year’s flu shot. So what can you do to reduce your risks of becoming infected – and to prevent spreading the infection to others? Here are five flu prevention tips to help you stay healthy:
- Next to getting a flu vaccine, one of the best steps for flu prevention is to wash your hands well and often. Carry a bottle of hand sanitizer or antibacterial hand wipes in your purse or gym bag for added protection.
- Get lots of rest. When you sleep, your body repairs itself, and that means when you get the rest you need, your body is in a much better position to fight off an invading flu virus. Since it gets darker earlier this time of year, it’s the perfect time to improve your sleep habits and set a regular bedtime routine. Your body will thank you for it all year round.
- Eat healthy – and drink lots of water. Good nutrition is also important for maintaining a healthy immune system, and fluids help your body rid itself of toxins for optimal health.
- Teach your children good flu hygiene, like sneezing into their shoulder, not their hands, and make sure they have plenty of facial tissues in their backpacks. For older kids, slip a bottle of hand sanitizer in as well.
- Wipe handrails, keyboards, phones and other commonly-used items with antibacterial wipes to prevent picking up the virus from an infected surface. Keeping wipes on a counter, bedside table, desk or other easily-accessible spot makes it easy for everyone in your family (and at work) to keep surfaces free from germs.
The CDC recommends an annual flu shot for nearly every person 6 months of age and older. To minimize your risks of catching the flu, ask your doctor if you should be vaccinated this flu season and follow the above tips to prevent infection. And if you develop any symptoms of the flu, call your doctor right away to find out if you need an office visit. For many patients, a lot of rest and plenty of fluids may be just what the doctor orders.