Preventing the Flu

Health, Home & Family
on November 12, 2011

Flu season in the United States runs from October through April, typically peaking in January or February. On average, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about five to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu and more than 200,000 are hospitalized from related flu complications.

Stay healthy this winter by taking simple steps to prevent the flu. Nobody enjoys head congestion, sore throats, aches, fevers and extreme fatigue. To keep the influenza virus at bay, be proactive and make healthy choices.

Get the vaccine. The CDC recommends the flu vaccine as the most important step in preventing the flu, and recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older receive the vaccine, especially health care workers, the elderly and anyone with certain chronic health conditions. People who are at high risk to suffer severe illnesses from flu complications should also get the vaccine. If you're not certain if you should get the flu vaccine, ask your doctor. Likewise, if you have concerns about the vaccine, talk to your doctor or health care professional.

Hand washing. Proper hygiene is essential to reducing the spread of flu or cold viruses. When someone infected with the flu coughs into his or her hand and then touches a door handle, a grocery cart or other public surface, that person leaves behind infectious germs. If you touch that spot and then eat something without washing your hands or if you touch your nose, eyes or mouth, you can become infected.

Keep hands away from face. Because the flu can be spread through touch, keeping your hands away from your nose, eyes and mouth can help reduce your risk from becoming infected. Keeping your hands away from your face in conjunction with hand washing can be extra effective in preventing the spread of flu.

Avoid crowded public areas. The flu virus can spread via mucus droplets through the air after someone infected sneezes or coughs. Be wary of spit-talkers during flu season as well. Those little drops of infected spit are a potential influenza virus for you. If you're at risk for severe complications from the flu, you may consider wearing a face mask when in crowded public areas.

Avoid sick people. It seems like a simple tactic, but avoiding people already sick with the flu really can help keep you healthy. However, it may be hard to avoid family members that are sick. When you share living space, consider having the sick person stay in one room and have limited contact with everyone else. Empty trash cans containing soiled tissues daily into outside containers. And always wash your hands after caring for a sick person.

Rest and nutrition. You can help your immune system fight infections by keeping your body rested and fueled properly. Be sure to eat several servings daily of fresh fruit and vegetables, stay hydrated and limit consumption of processed foods. Ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement would be helpful. Try to get at least eight hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly.