7 Ways to Avoid the Flu
Flu season starts in the fall and peaks in January or February. Every year, between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu, and about 200,000 people are hospitalized due to complications. The flu can be deadly, and those who are particularly at risk for fatal complications include the elderly, small children, pregnant women, and those with certain health conditions. In the thirty years between 1976 and 2006, the lowest number of flu deaths during a season was 3,000, while the highest number of deaths was 49,000.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that's caused by a number of different influenza viruses. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, and fatigue. Complications are more common in the elderly and young children, and include bacterial pneumonia, severe dehydration, and ear and sinus infections.
How the Flu is Spread
The influenza virus is spread mainly through droplets sent airborne when infected people cough, sneeze, and even talk. You can also contract the flu by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Infected people are contagious from one day before symptoms show up to about seven days after symptoms start. If you get the flu, don't return to work until 24 hours after your fever goes away.
Whether you're young, old, healthy, or in poor health, protecting yourself from the flu is essential for helping to control its spread, preventing serious complications that can affect overall health, and for avoiding the misery of this illness, which can keep you suffering in bed for up to two weeks.
The 7 Most Effective Ways to Avoid the Flu
- Get vaccinated! Every year, researchers determine which three or four flu viruses are most likely to be a problem and develop vaccines to provide immunization. While a flu vaccine isn't guaranteed to protect you from the flu, it's the best possible defense. Everyone over six months of age should get a flu vaccine every year.
- Disinfect. Keep some disinfecting wipes handy at work. Wipe down your desk, phone, computer keyboard, and anything else you or anyone else touches frequently. At home, disinfect doorknobs, light switches, the family phone, and other frequently-touched items, and keep the bathroom particularly clean during flu season.
- Avoid close contact with those who have the flu. Sure, visit your ailing grandma and take good care of your kids when they get it, but don't hug, kiss, or otherwise unnecessarily put your health at risk. And be sure to wash your hands after spending time with a flu patient.
- Wash your hands! Keeping your hands clean during flu season is essential for protecting yourself from contracting the virus. Anything you touch with the flu virus on it will transfer the virus to your hands. Then, when you go to pull an eyelash out of your eye, lick your thumb to turn a page, or scratch your nose, the virus is easily transferred to those mucous membranes. Once there, it will find a way to enter your bloodstream. Wash your hands regularly in warm, soapy water. If you can't access warm, soapy water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes, but not with your hands! Use a tissue, or cough and sneeze into the crook of your elbow. Make sure your kids do the same.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth unless your hands are clean. That's how the flu virus enters your body and infects you.
- Maintain adequate humidity in your home. Low humidity during the winter dries out your nasal passages, making it easier for the flu virus to get into your system when you inhale it. Low humidity also dries out the droplets in the air that contain the virus, enabling the virus itself to remain airborne longer. Maintain the ideal humidity level of 30 to 50 percent with the help of a portable or whole-house humidifier.