As the holiday season approaches so will flu season in high gear. The flu, a respiratory illness, is caused by the influenza virus, can wreak tremendous havoc on our body and is highly contagious, and sometimes deadly.
According to Harvard Health, there are approximately over 200,000 people who become hospitalized and 36,000 deaths annually from flu related complications. The populations that are most susceptible and vulnerable to the flu are young children, pregnant women, those with weakened immune system and over the age of 65. They are considered high-risk populations because they are the ones who have a higher probability to encounter complications from the flu. Since the flu is a viral and not bacterial infection, it could not be treated with antibiotics.
However, there are antiviral medications that can be prescribed by a doctor that can alleviate symptoms and shorten the course of the flu by a few days.
It is a highly transmittable respiratory illness, and can be easily spread from person to person from being in contact with the droplets of an infected person through sneezing, coughing and even talking. You can even catch the flu from someone who is 6 feet away. Severity of the flu can range from mild to severe, and symptoms are typically fever, chills, sore throat, body aches, fatigue, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and in rare cases vomiting and diarrhea.
How do you tell if you caught the flu and not the common cold? Although many of the symptoms of the cold and flu do overlap, there are signs that differentiate the flu from the cold. If you have a fever and or chills, headache, body or muscle aches and fatigue, you are more likely to have the flu.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) if you are infected with the flu, in order to prevent spreading the virus to others, stay at home and get plenty of bed rest for a minimum of 24 hours.
The virus can also be spread to others 1 day before onset of symptoms and 5-7 days after symptoms disappear. Experts also advise those who are healthy to stay away from those who are infected.
Albeit, there is no foolproof way to prevent catching the flu, there are definitely necessary steps everyone can take to decrease the chances of being infected.
Step 1: Get vaccinated
Although the CDC recommends at high-risk populations such as young children, pregnant women, and those over the age of 65 or with weakened immune systems get vaccinated annually, healthy individuals should be vaccinated to protect themselves. Those who are at high-risk tend to have higher health complications as a result of the flu that can lead to hospitalization and even death. The flu virus mutates every year; this is the reason why new vaccinations are developed annually to thwart off the new strain.
Flu shots are available since early October, and you can get one from your doctor’s office, pharmacy, drugstore, or flu clinics. You can also use the Flu Vaccine Finder at http://www.flu.gov/resources/widgets/ to find the nearest flu clinic near you. Most clinics also offer free flu shots.
Step 2: Wash your hands
The flu is highly infectious and can be spread easily through contact with the virus from person to person through exposure of droplets containing the virus or even touching surfaces that has been in contact with the virus. Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, using the CDC guidelines:
Wet, Lather, Scrub, Rinse and Dry
- Wet hands under cold or warm water
- Lather hands completely with soap, rubbing it together and ensuring that you lather between fingers, under nails and back of hands.
- Scrub hands for a minimum of 20 seconds.
- Rinse hands under clean running water.
- Dry hands with a hand/paper towel until completely dry, or air-dry them.
If clean water is not accessible, use alcohol based hand sanitizers like Purell. In addition, avoid touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth). These are the areas where the flu virus enters your body to replicate and get you sick.
Step 3: Exercise
Ever wonder why some people get sick so frequently while others rarely ever? This is because some people have a stronger immune system. If you don’t belong to that group, there are multiple ways to boost your immune system. Regular exercise and fitness can help boost immunity making you less susceptible to the flu. The reason for this is unknown, however, but theory is that exercise helps increase the production of white blood cells, which are cells that are part of the immune system responsible for fighting off infections.
Limit on time? 10 minutes of any type of physical activity incorporated into your daily routine is all you need. Just make sure if you exercise, to not overdo it, because it can actually have the reverse effect by lowering your immune system, and can do more harm than good. (Source: MedlinePlus) If you’re infected with the flu, it is best to take a day off work, get some bed rest and avoid exercise until symptoms improve.
Step 5: Get Plenty of Sleep
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation leads to higher susceptibility of getting infected from the cold or flu and also fighting off these infectious agents. This is due to your immune system being compromised when you don’t have sufficient amount of sleep. Although the amount of sleep may vary amongst age groups, adults should get anywhere between 7-8 hours, growing children roughly 10-12 hours and adolescents should get a minimum of 9 hours nightly.
Step 6: Eat Healthy
Having nutritious and well-balanced meals in conjunction to regular exercise will help build a stronger immune system that can help thwart off viruses. Eat plenty of vegetables that are in the green, red, yellow color groups; these vegetables contain vitamins and antioxidants that will help with your natural defenses.
Although it’s impossible to completely prevent you from getting sick even with a healthy habits, if you take these tips and incorporate them into your lifestyle, you will build a stronger immune system to help you defend yourself from infectious agents that not only can cause the flu, but the common cold and other illnesses.