Now that everyone is back to school, we’re starting to notice earlier darkness, chiller nights, and that unfortunate spreading of sickness. Ugh! And no illness is worse than the influenza virus—commonly known as the flu, which brings fever, fatigue, chills, cough, sore throat, body aches, stuffy nose and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that the flu contributes to more than 12, 000 deaths every year in the U.S.1 Deaths from influenza and pneumonia, which are closely tied to one another in the winter months, were particularly high last year, reaching peak levels of 4,000 fatalities a week.2
So before flu season strikes again, prepare yourself and your family with these 7 tips from Dr. Jason Tibbels, Vice President of Teladoc Health Services, so your crew can stay healthy.
1. Get the flu vaccine
Teladoc physicians recommend all children older than 6 months and adults 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. Dr. Tibbels recommends getting your flu shot before the end of October, but if your doctor’s office or pharmacy has the flu shot in stock already, go get it today!
2. Keep it clean
Since we can’t see germs, we should try imagining their presence in the most frequently touched areas of our home, office, and the places we visit. During flu season when the virus is spreading so quickly, consider how many places and spaces could contaminate you: shopping carts, door handles, faucets, seats on public transportation, even computers and phones. Who could possibly forget the study that found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than toilet seats?3
Regularly clean surfaces and areas that are frequently touched by different people with a disinfectant spray or wipe. Make a habit this flu season of wiping down high-touch areas of your home like remote controls, refrigerator doors, and microwaves at least a few times a week.
3. Practice good hand hygiene
If our previous tip sufficiently grossed you out, then you should know that the surest way to prevent the spread of infectious viruses is practicing good hand washing. Frequently cleanse hands with warm water and plenty of soap after using the restroom, before eating, after touching surfaces in public places as mentioned above, and certainly after coming in contact with someone who isn’t feeling well. The flu travels fast, 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. Do your body good
No, we’re not talking about drinking milk: 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. Dr. Tibbels recommends drinking plenty of water and increasing natural foods in your diet to boost the immune system.
To stay healthy, it’s also critical to get adequate and restful sleep each night. For most adults, that means seven to eight 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 before it’s too late.
5. Move your body good
Did you know that people who exercise 30 to 45 minutes a day experience a 40 to 50 percent reduction in the number of days they get sick?4 As you begin a workout, circulating levels of white blood cells and other sickness-fighting agents increases. Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress and the release of stress-related hormones, explains Dr. Tibbels, which improves overall health and lowers susceptibility to illness. 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 in the hope of being productive at work. You could spread the disease to friends and coworkers instead of recovering in peace and quiet. Drink fluids, rest in bed, and take pain-relieving medications for discomfort, Dr. Tibbels advises.
If you must be out in public, remember that the flu is 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 and being socially responsible will help reduce the risk of influenza spread this season.
7. Prepare for the worst
If you do end up succumbing to the flu this season, make sure you get plenty of bed rest while the illness runs its course. Due to fevers and potential fluid loss, focus your energy on drinking plenty of clear liquids. Have over-the-counter pain relievers on hand like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease discomfort of achiness. Talk to a doctor about whether an antiviral medication is the right fit for you. Sleeping in a room with a humidifier can bring relief from congestion and coughing. Saline drops can help treat congestion, while hot tea will soothe a sore throat. Mostly, stay home and sleep, avoiding contact with others as much as possible.
If you’re experiencing unusual pain, high fevers or symptoms lasting more than two weeks, consult a doctor. Remember, if you want to discuss your symptoms, U.S. board-certified Teladoc physicians are available 24/7 on your mobile device or online through secure video from the comfort of your own home.
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