11 Ways to Avert the Flu

Donna PhotoBy Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

Cold and flu season is upon us. And while it may be impossible to avoid exposure, it is possible to minimize your chances of letting those nasty bugs take hold in your body. Here are 11 ways to fend off influenza.

Wash your hands often and thoroughly. Flu and cold bugs are transmitted by droplets spread by infected people through sneezing, coughing, talking, kissing and touching surfaces with contaminated hands. It can also be spread when your clean hand touches an infected surface and you then touch your mouth, nose or eyes. It is therefore vital to wash your hands regularly with antibacterial soap and warm water. But a quick rinse won’t do. Scrub for 15-20 seconds minimum and up to your wrists or elbows when practical. Be sure to scrub under your nails, too, since lots of bacteria hide there.

Use hand sanitizer. Hand washing kills a lot of germs but an alcohol-based sanitizer will kill additional germs. It should not replace traditional soap and water washing but be an adjunct to it. It is also a convenient way to clean your hands when soap and water are not available. Carry a container of sanitizer with you at all times. It will kill germs present on your hands but doesn’t protect you from future exposure. Use more often when in public places. The product must be 60% alcohol or higher to be effective.

Get a flu shot. If you’re over 50 or have a chronic illness, this is most important. For kids and younger folks, consult your primary care provider. It’s important to note that vaccines do not necessarily protect you from all flu strains since new ones pop up all the time. But they can significantly reduce your chances of catching many of them.

Avoid sick people as much as possible. Although this seems obvious, think twice before entering the home of someone who is actively or was very recently ill with the flu. Avoid kissing and hugging sick people, even in your own home. And if you do get the flu, stay home from work, public places and other people as much as possible until you are well to prevent further spreading.

Stay well hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids is necessary for maintaining good health and keeping your nasal and respiratory passages moist and better equipped to reject viruses. Good hydration will also keep everything moving through your body, including potential toxins.

Eat your veggies. Consuming a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables will boost your immune system and provide your body with vitamin C and other nutrients that will help you stave off illness.

Work out regularly. Whether you swim or use a treadmill at home, regular physical activity will make you better prepared to fight off illness. Marching in place while watching TV or dancing to your favorite music works, too!

Disinfect surfaces. Keep door knobs, phone receivers, keyboards, remote controls and other frequently touched and shared surfaces clean and disinfected. If you stay in a hotel, carry alcohol swabs with you and disinfect these surfaces in your room upon arrival.

Adopt a hands-off policy. Keep your hands out of your mouth and away from your face. While in public places, avoid touching surfaces as much as possible, especially in restrooms. When in public, more frequent hand washing and sanitizing is advised.

Reduce stress. Stress weakens your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to flu and other illness. And since many people experience heightened stress and anxiety during the holidays and winter months, it is important to take steps to keep this in check. Spend time – even on the phone – with people whose company you enjoy (or seek alone time if that’s what you crave), ask for help when you need it, pamper yourself (ask for gift certificates to a spa for the holidays), and look for ways to lighten your workload if necessary.

Get some shut-eye. Seven to nine hours of sleep each night is recommended for most adults. Sleep deprivation leads to weakened defenses and opens the door to illness. If you’re not sleeping well or long enough, try initiating a bedtime relaxation ritual (one that doesn’t include TV or a computer), such as reading quietly, taking a warm bath, journaling, or meditating.

Making a little extra effort to implement these tips can help you to significantly reduce your risk of getting the flu this winter.

Watch for my next blog post about home remedies for avoiding and treating cold and flu.

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