The Best Tips for How to Protect Yourself From the Deadly Flu Season
8 minute read
The 2017-2018 flu season sent more than 900,000 to the hospital and an estimated 80,000 people died from the flu according to a statement by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as they head into their annual Flu Vaccine Campaign.
These are record-breaking numbers, and they top the previous high from 1976 when the CDC first started releasing flu death totals.
This underscores the importance of protecting yourself and consequently protecting others too, as the United States heads into the flu season. Let’s review some of the steps you can take to ward off the flu this year.
Ways to Avoid Getting the Flu
While we often like to find more natural alternatives to many health problems, the flu virus mutates each year, causing a new strain to be prominent. This makes it difficult for your body’s immune system to keep up. Boosting your immune system is always important, but following your doctor’s advice should always be the top priority.
Get a Flu Shot
Your doctor and every major medical organization recommends getting your flu shot every year. The flu shot is the most obvious way to protect yourself from the flu this season.
Everyone over the age of six months needs to get a flu shot by the end of October. It takes a while, typically about two weeks, for your body’s immune system to build appropriate antibodies to fight the flu.
Of course, it’s never too late, especially if you haven’t already had the flu this year. If you are reading this article and it’s still flu season, you should still get vaccinated.
While the flu shot is head and shoulders above your other options in terms of effectiveness, some people with compromised immune systems, the elderly, and the very young may not be able to receive the vaccine. This makes it even more important for everyone else to vaccinate themselves and protect those around them from a potentially fatal infection; it’s what is known as “herd immunity.”
Of course, it’s not always the flu that makes you sick, and it helps to do all you can to avoid getting sick in general. To that end, here are some tips to keep your immune system strong.
Be Aware of Germs
The best way to protect yourself from germs is to imagine that they’re everywhere. A flu virus can live for about 24 hours without a human host. That means if a sick person sneezes on a desktop and you use that desktop 23 hours later, you could still pick up their flu virus.
The best way to fight this spread of germs is to wash frequently with soap and water. If you aren’t able to wash, you can try using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. While there is a bit of controversy about the efficacy of hand sanitizers, it’s better than no protection.
Let’s face it, it’s just not practical for you to wash every single time you touch a communal surface. In fact, in some cases, such as sitting on a bus or train, you will be continually touching surfaces until you get to your stop, so you should wait to sanitize until then.
In the meantime, another way to combat germs is to prevent them from getting in your body in the first place by doing your best not to touch your face, especially your mouth and eyes.
If you’ve ever cringed when someone next to you coughed or sneezed, you’re not alone and it’s not a bad response. The safest distance from someone who is ill and expressing it is at least three feet away. Slip away from these germs to create a bubble of distance, if at all possible.
And cough/sneeze into the crook of your elbow if a tissue is unavailable. This keeps the germs off your hands while also helping curb the spread of whatever germs you may already have.
Maintain Your Healthy Lifestyle
A great way to fight sickness is to live a healthy lifestyle and boost your immune system naturally. Stick to healthy foods prepared in ways that support your body and fuel it efficiently.
Keep up your fitness routine, you could even try to push yourself a little harder to build immunities and to ward off the winter blues.
Make de-stressing and a restful night’s sleep a priority. Stress and lack of sleep beat up your immune system and leave you vulnerable. Getting plenty of sleep and giving yourself permission to relax is an easy way to build your defenses, and you’ll feel great too.
If You Have the Flu—How to Protect Others
Stay home: The obviously way to protect others when you have the flu is to stay away from them and you could probably use the rest anyway. It’s recommended that you say home for at least 24 hours or until your fever is gone without the use of fever reducing medication.
Keep germs to yourself: The vampire cough or vampire sneeze has been touted as the newest and best way to keep your germs to yourself. Called the “vampire” because it requires you to bring up your arm, ala Dracula, to cover your mouth.
| Related: How Probiotics Can Bolster Your Immune System |
While this method of coughing or sneezing into your sleeve, at about the elbow is helpful, it’s not the most effective way to protect others. A good old-fashioned tissue that you can use and then promptly toss in the garbage is still the best way to prevent germs from spreading.
Wash your hands: Much like when you’re trying to avoid getting the flu, if you’re trying to avoid spreading it, you need to become a fastidious hand-washer.
For the best wash, be sure scrub your hands in soap long enough. Did you know surgeons sing the Alphabet Song to make sure they wash long enough before rinsing?
Seek Medical Help if Necessary: Most people recover from the flu in time without help. However, if your symptoms worsen or seem to get better and then come back, it’s a good idea to chat with your healthcare provider.
It’s possible you’ve developed a complication or a secondary infection and these can be dangerous. If this has happened, it’s a good idea to continue practicing the above precautions to protect others.
The Bottom Line
The flu shot is your best defense against the flu. Apart from that, practice good, healthy habits to give your body the strength it needs to fight the flu and any other illnesses that are going around this winter.
If you’re sick, stay home in the initial stages so you’re less likely to pass the flu on to others. Carry tissues with you everywhere so you can catch those errant sneezes and coughs. And don’t forget that soap and water is one of the best weapons against getting sick and passing along germs—wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.