Anyone who has suffered a bout of the flu knows how uncomfortable it can be. While most people who get the flu recover within one to two weeks, the CDC estimates that cases of influenza have led to 140,000-960,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010—severe cases of the flu can even be fatal for immunocompromised individuals and the elderly. Flu season peaks in mid-February and can last through the onset of spring, which is why now is such an important time to focus on being vigilant.
Even if there’s no surefire way to avoid catching the flu this year, there are plenty of things you can do to keep you and your family healthy throughout the rest of the winter months. Here are five tips for making it through the flu season, all of which can help bolster your defenses against what can sometimes be a serious illness.
1. Get a Flu Shot
Getting an annual flu shot is by and large the most effective way to prevent a case of influenza. Though not 100% effective, flu shots reduce the risk of contracting influenza by 40-60%, and those who do end up getting the flu after having their shot typically report symptoms that are less severe than those normally associated with the virus. Because the most dominant flu viruses can mutate and shift from one year to another, it’s important to remember that last year’s vaccine most likely won’t be effective against this year’s flu—annual vaccination is recommended.
2. Wash Your Hands Frequently
Keeping your hands clean is always a smart idea when it comes to practicing good hygiene, but it’s especially important during flu season. If you have children, it’s even more crucial to ensure they’re washing their hands regularly—it’s very easy for them to come into contact with contaminated surfaces at school. Lather soap on your hands and scrub them together for 20 seconds, and rinse with warm water for an effective hand-wash—repeat as necessary throughout the day. While jet and hot air dryers are commonly found in public buildings, using paper towels is considered to be the most hygienic method for drying one’s hands after washing.
3. Be Sure You’re Getting Enough Sleep
Sleep can make all the difference in the world when it comes to feeling refreshed in the morning, but many people don’t realize just how much of an impact it can have on one’s overall health and wellness. A lack of sleep can negatively affect the immune system and lead to higher chances of getting sick with practically any illness, including the flu. Strive to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, with consistency being the goal—there’s really no way to “catch up” on sleep aside from adjusting your sleep schedule for the long-term.
4. Limit Contact with Sick People
As difficult as it can be to fully avoid those who are currently fighting the flu virus and may be contagious, staying out of situations where you know you’ll be near someone who is sick plays an important role in keeping influenza at bay. Avoiding contact with sick people is important, but so too is staying home and away from healthy people if you yourself end up getting sick. After all, the flu spreads via coughing, sneezing and infected surfaces. The more you and others do to avoid getting someone else sick, the healthier the population will be as a whole.
5. Get Treated if You Do Get Sick
At the end of the day, there’s no way to completely ensure you won’t get sick with the flu this year. If you do get sick, however, seeking quick and immediate evaluation is the best way to ensure a speedy recovery. Depending upon the severity of the illness, antiviral drugs may be used as treatment. These are most effective when started within two days of the onset of symptoms, so don’t hesitate to be seen if you begin to feel ill.