Getting the flu means different things to different people. For many otherwise healthy individuals, this seasonal illness is nothing but a mild annoyance. For those who have suppressed immune systems, however, it can quickly become a matter of life and death.
According to the CDC, around 200,000 Americans will be hospitalized due to the flu each year, more than 3,500 of whom will die from complications of the disease.
There are seven key steps to staying healthy and reducing the spread of illness during flu season that everyone should know.
1. Get the flu shot.
Getting the flu shot is the easiest and most important way to stay healthy during flu season. The flu shot isn't perfect, as manufacturers have to predict months in advance which strains will be the most prevalent, but it's the best chance to avoid becoming ill. Because the flu can be especially deadly to young children and the elderly, it's really important for them to get the vaccine, as well as those who have regular contact with them.
2. Wash your hands.
The hands pick up a lot of germs over the course of the day, particularly from shaking hands with people and touching door handles. It's important to wash hands frequently with warm, soapy water to reduce the spread of illness. It takes around 30 seconds to properly wash hands, which is also about how long it takes to sing the alphabet twice.
3. Avoid touching your face.
Skin does an excellent job of keeping germs from entering the body. However, touching the face gives germs on the hand a free ride into eyes, nose and mouth, where a person can become infected. It's a hard habit to break, but it plays a big role in maintaining good health during flu season.
4. Avoid people who are sick.
As much as possible, try to avoid directly contacting anyone who is ill during this time. This is hard to do for some, including teachers and health care providers, but it's really important to minimize contact when possible. Those who are immunocompromised should consider wearing a surgical mask around others to stay safe.
5. Take care of yourself if you feel under the weather.
Despite taking plenty of precaution, people can still get sick. When this happens, it's important to stay home from work or school to avoid affecting others. Dehydration is a big concern with the flu, so remaining hydrated is a big priority.
6. Sneeze and cough into the elbow to contain germs.
A sneeze can send spit and germs up to 200 feet, so it's important to contain them. Covering a sneeze with hands will spread germs easily as soon as something is touched, so it's best to use the inside of the elbow, which is less likely to make contact and spread the illness.
7. Make sure you're taking the right medication.
Influenza is a virus, which means that taking antibiotics won't do anything. However, there are antivirals that can help treat the flu. Make an appointment with your doctor to find out which one is best for you and to get a prescription.
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