According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “it is estimated that in the United States, each year on average 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications.” You may just consider the flu an uncomfortable nuisance, but it can be quite severe. Flu season is just around the corner, so we’ve compiled a list of our five best feel better tips for flu season.
Get Vaccinated Early
If you’ve ever been vaccinated with the flu only to end up in a bed for a week, it might be due to the timing of your flu vaccine. The flu vaccine takes roughly two full weeks to take effect, so if you head to your doctor in the middle of a nasty outbreak, you may end up coming down with the flu before your body has sufficient time to build antibodies. Keep in mind that the flu vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing the flu, but it is associated with lower hospitalization rates in both children and adults.
Wash Your Hands
You hear this advice all the time, but with good reason. Sudsing up your hands and scrubbing them often is one of the best ways to prevent coming down with the flu. Dr. Fran Wallach, hospital epidemiologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital and associate professor Medicine, Infectious Diseases as the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says, “[t]he two most important things you can do for yourself to avoid the flu is to get an actual flu vaccine and the second is to have good hand hygiene.” Your hands are in constant contact with germs and many viruses spread when your fingers make contact with your mouth or eyes. Washing your hands helps to eliminate that risk. If you can’t make it to a sink, it’s a good idea to carry hand sanitizer with an alcohol content of at least 60% on you so you can sanitize when you need to.
Wash Your Hands…Correctly
When washing your hands, use warm water and soap and lather together for at least 20 seconds. As you lather, be sure to get under your nails, between your fingers, the fronts and backs of your hands and go up the wrist a bit. After 20 to 30 seconds, rinse and then dry with a dryer or paper towels. Avoid using shared towels, where germs and bacteria can grow. If you’re using hand sanitizer, be sure to use enough to thoroughly cover the hands (about a nickel sized amount) and rub the solution into your hands for 15 to 20 seconds.
Engaging regularly in moderate exercise is associated with a stronger immune system and the CDC recommends being active as one way to combat getting sick. Take advantage of the beautiful fall scenery with a hike or park as far away as possible at the mall when doing your holiday shopping to get some extra walking in. If you feel like hitting the gym, head over to the treadmill for some brisk walking, use the stair-climber or sign up for a yoga class.
Taking a sick day sometimes seems like a complete luxury, but during flu season it’s best to think of staying away from work as a necessity. Not getting enough sleep in itself is a factor in contracting the flu because lack of sleep is associated with lower immune functions, so it’s extra important to be sure that you are getting plenty of sleep when you do have the flu. But staying home isn’t only about you and your rest. The flu can be active in your body without you experiencing any symptoms of the illness and by the time you do display flu symptoms, you are definitely contagious. Avoid getting sicker and infecting those around you by taking a few sick days to fully rest and recuperate. When you absolutely must leave your home, be sure to cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing (into your elbow is the recommended method).
Healthy habits and good hygiene are two of the most important factors when it comes to avoiding the flu this season. Children and the elderly are among those with the highest risk of catching the flu, so it is especially important to use these tips if you fall into, or if you care for someone who falls into, those categories. Using these five feel better tips helps you to survive flu season as healthy as possible.