The flu isn’t just a nuisance. According to the CDC, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu each year, and the 2017-2018 season saw a record number of pediatric deaths from flu-related causes. These can be very frightening statistics for parents who must relinquish control of their children to buses, schools and day cares filled with germs.
Fortunately, there are ways that you can prevent the spread of the flu virus. You can even get your family in on it. Here are just a few tips for keeping everyone healthy as the weather gets colder.
1. Get Vaccinated
You’ve probably heard a lot of different things about vaccines, but they’re still the best way to prevent the flu. Doctors recommend that everyone over the age of six months should get vaccinated. Not only will it protect you and your kids as individuals, but it will also prevent you from carrying and spreading the virus to other families.
2. Wash Your Hands
Bathroom breaks aren’t the only times that you should be washing your hands. Whenever you encounter doorknobs, keyboards, light switches or other communal property, you should plan another meeting with soap and water. Studies have shown that a single infected doorknob can pass germs to 40 – 60 percent of an office.
3. Don’t Touch Your Face
This is particularly important if you have little ones. Young children don’t think twice about sticking their fingers up their noses or into their mouths, but hand-to-face contact is one of the quickest ways to spread germs. You’ll need to teach them to keep their hands away from vulnerable places like the eyes and mouth.
4. Stay Hydrated
It’s a myth that you need eight glasses of water per day, but you should probably be drinking more than you already do. Dehydration can sneak up on you and cripple your immune system without any overt physical symptoms. You might feel a little more fatigued than usual, but it’s easy to write that off as stress or sleep deprivation without realizing its true cause.
5. Get More Sleep
Speaking of sleep deprivation, this is another thing that you’ll want to avoid keeping yourself in flu-fighting shape. If you’re weak, tired and immunocompromised, you’ll be susceptible to all kinds of illnesses, even ones that normally wouldn’t slow you down. Make sure that you’re getting at least 6 – 8 hours per night to keep your body strong and healthy.
6. Decontaminate “High-Traffic” Surfaces
If there’s something that you touch a lot, it’s probably carrying its fair share of germs. For example, the average cellphone is host to 25,000 bacteria per square inch, so you’re pressing something against your face that’s dirtier than a toilet seat. You’ll need to use special disinfectant wipes to keep it clean and preserve your health.
7. Avoid Contagious People
This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people allow themselves to be drawn into hugs and handshakes with red-nosed individuals because they don’t want to appear rude. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry, but I have kids at home, and I’d hate to get them sick.” Anyone who takes offense to this reasonable concern just isn’t worth your time.
8. Stay Away from Sponges
Despite their convenience, sponges are one of the worst things that you can use for cleaning the house. Their perpetually moist surfaces are prime breeding grounds for germs. If you can’t bear to make the switch to rags and wipes, at least get into the habit of replacing your sponges every week or so. Don’t give the germs time to colonize.
9. Get Your Heart Pumping
Light to moderate exercise can boost your immune system and help you fight off everything from the flu to raging cases of foot fungus. It might be a challenge to establish a fitness routine in the middle of winter, but even if you can’t jog around the block, you can still join a gym or invest in a treadmill. The specific kind of exercise doesn’t matter; you just need to get your blood flowing for at least 20 – 30 minutes per day.
10. Watch Those Sneezes
Do you remember the tip about not touching your face to prevent the spread of germs? This includes covering your mouth when you sneeze. If you feel one coming on, grab a tissue or direct your nose into your elbow. If there’s snot to clean up, don’t do it by wiping it away with your hands. Gesundheit!
11. Get More Vitamin C
Vitamin C can be an effective remedy for cold and flu symptoms. One study showed that 85 percent of flu sufferers reported feeling better after taking daily doses of vitamin C. If you recognize any tell-tale aches spreading through your bones, start drinking more orange juice. You might just nip your illness in the bud.
12. Encourage an Open-Air Flow
Crowded, poorly-ventilated areas will increase your likelihood of getting sick. In addition to rubbing shoulders with potentially contagious people, you’ll also be breathing in stagnant and germ-filled air. Make it a point to turn on the fan when you enter a crowded office. You can always point it away from people if it gets chilly.
13. Keep Hand Sanitizer in Your Bag
While hand sanitizer isn’t as effective as washing your hands with soap and water, it’s better than nothing. You can encourage your kids to make use of it, too. They might not want to scrub between their fingers for 20 seconds, but they’ll be willing to use a colorful little bottle of hand sanitizer that you’ve clipped to their backpack.
14. Curb Your Bad Habits
If you’ve been looking for an excuse to quit smoking or drinking, this is it. Unhealthy habits can compromise your immune system by damaging your organs, disrupting your sleep patterns and weakening your body to the point where viruses can move right in. Congested lungs can also make it harder to breathe if you start to experience early-stage cold and flu symptoms.
15. Mind Your Makeup
Ladies, this one is for you. Germs can linger on the surfaces of your makeup brushes and cause illnesses even weeks after they were contaminated, so get into the habit of cleaning your makeup supplies on a regular basis. This is especially important if you used them when you were sick. They need to be sanitized just like everything else in your life after an illness.
16. Avoid Communal Objects
Can you stick a pen in your coat pocket rather than using the ones at the bank or post office? Can you bring a sandwich for lunch instead of soup that you need to heat up in the break room microwave? If you can avoid touching these contaminated surfaces, you won’t even need to worry about disinfecting them.
17. Ask for Antiviral Medication
If you notice yourself coming down with something despite all your best efforts to stay healthy, don’t hesitate to schedule a doctor’s appointment. They can put you on prescription antiviral medication that will prevent your flu from getting worse or developing complications. This is even more critical for senior citizens; antiviral meds can be the difference between a mild bout of flu and a serious case of pneumonia.
Flu season is upon us, so it’s time to start taking extra precautions to keep your family from sniffling and sneezing. Use these tips to make sure that everyone is well-protected in the coming months.