As we head into our not-so-favorite time of year—flu season—you might be thinking that it could be another mild year for influenza infections. Not so, say the experts,1 who advise everyone to go ahead and get their flu shot.
While there was actually a dip in flu infections around the globe in 2020—likely due to COVID-19 safety precautions such as our homebound lifestyles, mask-wearing and more-frequent hand washing—we aren’t likely to experience the same scenario this year.
“As fall comes upon us and winter looms ahead, it’s important to prepare by getting your annual flu shot, especially this year with COVID-19 variants on the rise,” says Konstantina Papathomas, MD, one of our Teladoc physicians. “Vaccinations against influenza help to prevent severe illness should you get sick from the flu. This is very important, as the flu can certainly take its toll on our bodies, and we want to prevent that. It’s very similar to the goal of the COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, which are also tremendously important to get, for those who are eligible.”
As more people get vaccinated for COVID-19 and return to more pre-pandemic activities, many areas are seeing increased travel, larger social gatherings and less strict COVID-19 precautions. This means more opportunities for infection.
No matter what you do this fall, it’s important to keep in mind that when people are out and about, the flu and COVID-19 viruses are there too.
The good news is that you can drastically reduce your chance of getting the flu—and the fever, fatigue, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, stuffy nose and bathroom visits that come with it. The really good news? Many of the things you do to help prevent the flu can also help protect you from COVID-19.
7 stay-healthy tips
1. Get vaccinated
All children 6 months and older2 and adults should get the influenza vaccine—also known as the flu shot. This injection, which does not contain a live virus that can cause the flu, goes right into the arm muscle to generate antibodies within about two weeks. These antibodies protect against future flu infection, creating the most effective prevention method for this serious seasonal illness.
2. Keep it clean
We’re all experts on cleanliness after this past year. During flu season and throughout the pandemic when a virus is spreading so quickly, consider areas and things that are touched frequently.
Regularly clean these surfaces and areas with a disinfectant spray or wipe. Make a habit of wiping down high-touch areas of your home like remote controls, refrigerator doors, light switches and door handles at least a few times a week.
3. Wash your hands
Let’s all say it together now, “Washing your hands frequently and correctly is one of the best ways to prevent infection.” Frequently cleanse hands with warm water and plenty of soap after using the restroom, before eating, after touching surfaces in public places and certainly after coming in contact with someone who isn’t feeling well. The flu and COVID-19 travel quickly and keeping your hands clean is the best way to ensure the virus doesn’t make a stop at your front door. If you aren’t near a sink, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead. It’s generally recommended that you don’t touch your nose, mouth or eyes unless you have just cleaned your hands.
4. Eat well, sleep well
Take the time and energy to prepare and eat healthy foods and get plenty of rest each night. Shoot for vitamin- and mineral-rich foods like fruits and vegetables that are bright with color as well as a healthy mix of proteins and whole grains. The nutrients will help your body fight off illnesses better. Drinking plenty of water and increasing natural (less processed) foods in your diet also boost the immune system.
To stay healthy, it’s also critical to get adequate and restful sleep3 each night. For most adults, that means seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep so your body can build up a defense against infections and diseases. If you’re feeling run down, listen to what your body’s telling you and get some additional sleep.
5. Move your body
Did you know that people4 who exercise 30 to 45 minutes a day experience a 40% to 50% reduction in the number of days they get sick?1 As you begin a workout, circulating levels of white blood cells and other sickness-fighting agents increase. Regular movement also reduces inflammation and the occurrence of chronic disease. Research also shows that routine physical activity improves quality and duration of sleep—a huge plus for keeping illnesses at bay.
6. Practice the golden rule
“Treat others as you would wish to be treated” certainly applies to fellow humans during flu season. As members of a community, our choices affect those around us, and their decisions affect us. For the common good, stay home if you are feeling unwell. Don’t fight your way through flu symptoms (or COVID-19 symptoms) in the hope of being productive at work. You could spread illness to friends and coworkers instead of recovering in peace and quiet.
If you must be out in public, remember that both the flu and COVID-19 are transmitted by respiratory droplets. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to prevent its spread. Ideally, cough or sneeze into a tissue that you can immediately throw away or into your sleeve, as opposed to your hand. Keeping your distance, being socially responsible and wearing masks indoors will help reduce the risk of disease spread this season.
7. Not feeling well? Get in touch
If you’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, unusual pain, high fevers, worsening symptoms or symptoms lasting more than 10 to 14 days, consult a doctor immediately. Remember, if you want to discuss your symptoms, U.S. board-certified Teladoc physicians are available on your mobile device or online through secure video from the comfort of your own home.
This flu season, do what you can to keep yourself and those around you healthy. If you are experiencing symptoms of the flu, COVID-19 or another seasonal virus, reach out for expert care you can count on.
Updated September 22, 2021