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12 Things You Need To Know About This Upcoming Flu Season
There is no denying it. Flu season is upon us once again. It can start as early as October and keep going with an encore performance right through May. The 2013-2014 flu season was pretty typical as there was very little activity through mid-November, but by the end of December it was in full swing. Experts estimate that between five and 25 percent of the American population will come down with the flu every year. About 200,000 people become sick enough that they need to be hospitalized. Although many people downplay the flu as something minor, it isn’t always. Literally thousands of people die from it each year. Of course those most at risk are the very young (five and under) and the very old (65 and older), those with health problems such as heart disease or asthma, and pregnant women. The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself before you catch the flu; ways to tell if you have the flu, a cold, or something else; and what to do if you should come down sick. Keep reading for the top 12 things you will need to know about this upcoming flu season.
1. Wash Your Hands
Of course, this is one of the most obvious ways to stop catching the flu, but it bears repeating. This is especially true if you use any type of public building, restroom, transportation, or service. Let’s be honest, unless you live on a farm, you probably come into contact with some type of publically used device or surface. Things such as stairway or escalator railings, ATM pads, bank counter tops, subway seats, straps, and railings, not to mention bathroom doors and trashcans, are all great places to pass on or pick up viruses. This is why it is vital that you wash your hands, working up a lather for a full 20 seconds. Anything less than 20 seconds, and those little germs can still continue to have a party on your hands. Wet your hands and use enough soap to work up a good lather. Count to twenty or sing the happy birthday song twice, then rinse. Use an air dryer or paper towels. Never use a shared hand towel to dry, as you can pick up the germs from there once again. If there are no paper towels, shake your hands dry.
2. Stop Touching Your Face
This is easier said than done! The quickest way for the flu to gain access to your body is after you touch an infected surface or person and then touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. The CDC says that the average person touches their face between 15 and 50 times an hour. It’s so automatic that when we have an itchy nose, we just scratch it without thinking. Now is the time to try to stop that habit! Try keeping tissues in your purse or on your desk. (Anti-viral tissues are great for this!) Next time you feel that itch on your nose, scratch it through or with the tissue. Keep long hair tied back so that it won’t fall in your face, and you won’t be tempted to pull it out of your eyes. This can be a really difficult habit to break, but if you really want to reduce your chances of catching the flu, or any type of bug, this is a habit you should work at stopping.
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3. Get Regular Moderate Exercise
Numerous studies have shown that those who work out regularly have stronger immune systems than those who sit on their butts most of the time. You don’t have to run marathons or spend hours at the gym to get this immune-boosting benefit. Simple walking, bike riding, yoga, playing with the dog or your children, and even washing your car by hand counts as moderate exercise! It is more difficult to get exercise during the winter months, true, so use wintertime as an excuse to practice inside exercises such as dancing in the living room, weight training, or moving the treadmill from your bedroom to the living room. Walk on the treadmill during the evening news or during your favorite television program. What you do isn’t nearly as important as just plain old doing it! So get off your butt for at least 30 minutes a day, and get moving.
4. Talk To Your Doctor About A Flu Vaccine
Like everything in life, getting a flu vaccine involves a certain amount of risk. However, for some high risk people, getting the flu shot is worth it. Although the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, for some people, it is better than nothing. If you fall into any of the high risk categories, speak with your doctor about the benefits and risks of getting the flu vaccine. Of course the best way to avoid the flu is to improve your immune system by following the steps we are outlining in this article, but for certain high risk individuals, the flu shot could literally mean the difference between life and death.
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5. Get Your Greens On!
The main foods that are well-known for improving and building up the immune system are berries, onions, mushrooms, and green cruciferous veggies such as broccoli. It can take months to build up your immune system, so don’t wait until you have the flu before you start eating right. Begin tonight, with dinner, and keep eating healthy, organic produce all year long! Parents, it can be hard to get kids to eat their greens, but you might find that you can get them to eat berries, especially frozen berries, or smoothies that contain berries and kale. If you think that your fridge is running low on produce, go hit up the produce aisle of your supermarket after work today, and get to work strengthening that immune system now!
6. Avoid Secondhand Smoke And Quit Smoking
Numerous studies have shown that people who smoke, even if it’s just a few cigs a day, are far more likely to catch the flu than nonsmokers. Unfortunately, secondhand smoke also increases your risk of catching the flu or a cold, so avoid smokers as much as humanly possible. If you smoke, quit. Need help? (Who doesn’t?) See your doctor or visit smokefree.gov for tons of resources and advice on how to quit once and for all.
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7. Get Your Rest
Skimping on sleep might impress your boss, but it weakens your immune system. Those who regularly get less than six hours sleep a night are much more susceptible to becoming sick and picking up viruses that the immune system cannot resist. Get a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night to increase your chances of staying healthy this flu season.
8. Limit Your Exposure To The Sick
Hopefully none of your co-workers come to work sick but if they do, encourage them to go home. The flu virus can spread around an office, and is found on at least 50 percent of all surfaces, in just four hours, according to research studies. If you can’t avoid a sick person (such as your child, spouse, or if you work in the health care field), then at least wash your hands both before and after you come into contact with them.
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9. How To Find Out If You Have The Flu, A Cold, Or Something Else
The flu and a cold have very similar symptoms, which make it difficult to tell which one you have. Here are the big differences: A flu will give you body aches and a high fever. Colds might give you a low grade fever but no body aches. Colds also seem to be confined to the head; the flu generally travels to the chest area as well. Also, the flu will develop much faster than a cold. With the flu, you might start to feel a tickle in your throat at lunchtime, and by 3 p.m. you are sick as a dog. Colds generally develop slowly over two or three days. By the way, if you start vomiting or have diarrhea, you probably don’t have the flu, but some type of stomach ailment. Small children sometimes get diarrhea or vomit from the flu, but not adults.
10. Drink Water
This might seem like a no-brainer, but many people stop drinking their normal eight glasses of water once they are sick because they feel like crap, and they stop thinking about anything else other than the fact that they feel like crap. Drink plenty of water, herbal teas with honey and lemon, and clear broths to help your body stay hydrated, flush out toxins, and create an environment that is generally inhospitable to viruses. Avoid milk as this only makes mucus thicker and more difficult to remove from the body.
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11. If You Get The Flu
Please, please, please, if you get the flu, stay home! You are contagious for about 24 hours before symptoms start, so you have already spread it to more people than you will ever know. By the time you are obviously sick, you can infect every person in a room simply by sneezing and coughing. Please, do the world a favor and keep your flu to yourself. If you are a boss, please be understanding about this. No one likes people calling in sick, but it happens. It is far better to have one or two employees out sick for a week than to have most of your employees come down sick over a three to four week period. If you must go out to get food or other items, cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. That sneeze can infect everyone within a six foot range of you, so please, cover your nose and mouth, and buy a couple boxes of those anti-viral tissues to kill those nasty flu bugs when you do sneeze.
12. Know What To Do
If you or one of your family members should come down with the flu, there are a few things you can do to help ease symptoms and shorten the duration. First, don’t run to your doctor for antibiotics. The flu is a virus, and antibiotics are for bacteria, so this is will not affect the virus at all. It does wreak havoc on the body, killing the good bacteria in your digestive system that is part of your immune system. So if antibiotics are out, what can you do? Let’s take a look.
- Anti-Viral Herbs: Your doctor might want to prescribe the anti-viral chemical Tamiflu, but why not try some natural anti-viral herbs instead? Some of the best are ginger, thyme, garlic, cinnamon, turmeric, licorice root, lemon balm, and elderberry. These work best when you take them at the very first sign of the flu.
- Get Vitamin D: Depending on the weather, getting 30 minutes of natural sunlight (not through a window) can help lessen flu symptoms. If the weather does not permit, try taking some vitamin D3 supplements or using safe tanning beds.
- Vitamin C: Although it is best to consume natural citrus fruits for vitamin C, you can always take some supplements after you become sick to help strengthen the immune system, and stimulate the production of white blood cells to fight the flu virus.
- Take Probiotics: Most of your immune system lies in your gut, so consuming yogurt or fermented foods will help strengthen your immune system by feeding the good guys that live in your digestive system.
It’s important to note when you should seek medical care. Although most people find that their symptoms have greatly diminished within seven to 10 days, sometimes the flu leads to complications such as pneumonia. If you experience any of the following, seek medical help immediately:
- Difficulty breathing
- If the fever is high and remains high. A fluctuating fever is normal, but any fever that remains over 102 and won’t go down after 24 hours is a troubling sign that should be evaluated by your doctor
- If you are pregnant
- If the person is under five or over 65
- If the person appears to be getting worse or symptoms become more severe after seven days
If you have any concerns about someone with the flu, don’t hesitate to see your doctor. Remember that the flu does kill people every year, so it is far better to see your doctor and be safe if you think that anything is out of the ordinary, than to wait and be sorry later.