People dread flu season every year, and with good reason. Between 9.2 million and 35.6 million cases of flu arise annually in the United States. It's not a virus that should be taken lightly, and it can cause serious damage to your body. Even if you don't wind up with a severe case that lands you in the hospital, no one enjoys being stuck at home, fighting a fever and struggling to breathe properly.
Unfortunately life demands that you put yourself at risk of exposure as you go to work, run errands, or go grocery shopping. So, how do you protect yourself?
Your first, and most powerful line of defense against the flu is the flu shot. While getting the flu shot doesn't guarantee that you won't contract the virus, it does significantly decrease your chances of infection. Getting a flu shot is easier than ever and doesn't require a trip to the doctor. You can conveniently get vaccinated at your local CVS or Walmart.
Stay Home if You're Sick
It's important to stay home if you start showing signs of the flu. This is important for two reasons. First, you don't want to spread the virus to others. Secondly, you need to rest and recover. One of the worst things you can do when you're sick with the flu is try to push through and act like everything is fine. You'll only make your body weaker and allow your flu symptoms to intensify.
Wash Your Hands
Since viruses spread through germs, it's extremely important that you keep your hands clean. It's recommended that you wash up after touching any communal surfaces such as a light switch or door knob. You should also wash up before eating or preparing food. When you wash, make sure you do so properly. Lather up for at least 20 seconds, then rinse under water, and air dry or pat dry with a clean towel.
If you're sharing a space at work or at home with someone who has the flu, you should disinfect the surfaces around you daily. The flu virus can remain viable on contaminated surfaces for around 24 hours, making anything you touch a danger to your health. To decrease your chances of contracting the flu, wipe or spray down any communal surface that could be contaminated, such as phone chargers, sink faucets, light switches, work phones, and keyboards.
Don't Touch Your Face
During the flu season, try to avoid touching your face as much as possible. You can't catch the flu simply by touching an item that's been contaminated, but the germs will transfer to your hands. If, before washing up, you touch the areas near your nose or mouth, you'll find yourself at high risk for infection.
Don't Shake Hands
During flu season, avoid shaking people's hands if at all possible. Just because the person you're speaking to looks healthy, that doesn't mean they haven't already contracted the virus. People are contagious before symptoms arise and about a week after they subside.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night is good for your health on a normal day, but it's extremely beneficial during flu season. Without the proper amount of sleep, your body and immune system weaken. As your body weakens, it leaves you extremely vulnerable to viruses, such as the flu.
Cover Your Mouth and Nose
If you think you're catching the flu, it's important to cover your mouth and your nose when you cough or sneeze. Coughing or sneezing into the open air is one of the fastest ways to spread the virus to others.
Hide Your Toothbrush
If you have a significant other or roommate that is sick with the flu, store your toothbrush in a safe area. If their contaminated toothbrush touches yours, or the infected person coughs or sneezes in the bathroom, your toothbrush can become compromised.
The flu is responsible for 140,000-710,000 hospitalizations and 12,000-56,000 deaths each year, and it's very easy to catch. So, it's important that you do everything you can to protect yourself from the virus. Use the list of tips above to keep you and your family safe this flu season.
By North Jersey Pulmonary Associates
January 21, 2020