The Flu: Here’s How to Protect Yourself

Woman sitting on sofa blowing noseThe number of hospitalizations for the flu keep rising, according to the CDC.  At this point, more people have been admitted to the hospital for the flu this year than during the 2009 swine flu epidemic. We can expect the season to stretch until late April—that’s another two months. Some especially virulent seasons, like this one, have even lasted until May.

There’s no guarantee against catching the flu, but here are some tips to lower your chances:

Wash your hands properly

According to research, the type of soap and temperature of water don’t make much of a difference in getting rid of viruses. The most important part of hand washing is vigorous rubbing action for at least 20 seconds. The friction caused by rubbing your lathered hands together is what banishes the germs. But it has to be at least 20 seconds; anything shorter than that is simply not effective.

This is how Mayo Clinic says to wash your hands:

  • Wet your hands with running water of any temperature.
  • Apply soap—preferably not antibacterial soap—to one hand, and lather up.
  • Rub your hands together forcefully for at least 20 seconds. Scrub the backs of your hands, your wrists, between your fingers, and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel.
  • Use the towel to turn off the faucet so you don’t transfer the germs back to your clean hands.

It’s important to wash your hands before preparing food, before meals, and after using the bathroom. You will also benefit from washing your hands after handling garbage and touching an animal. It’s especially important to wash your hands after you blow your nose, cough, or sneeze.

If you can’t wash, use hand sanitizer

It’s not nearly as effective as washing with soap and water, but if you can’t get to a sink, hand sanitizer is better than nothing. Use a product that contains 60% alcohol. Anything less than that will not be able to fight flu germs.

Get your flu shot

Yes, even this late in the season. If you haven’t yet caught the flu and you didn’t get the shot, it’s still not too late to get it. Although it’s estimated to be only 36% effective this season, that’s still 36% more protection against the virus. If you’re in the higher risk pool, such as being over 65 or having conditions like heart disease, every bit of protection helps. Studies have also shown that even if you do catch the flu, having had the shot reduces the severity of the strain you catch. It also reduces the chances of complications and overall duration of hospital stays.

Boost your immune system

A strong immune system is the best defense to any invasive germ. Maintain a good sleep cycle, eat your veggies, and exercise to the best of your ability.

If you catch the flu, take it easy

If, after everything, you contract the flu, make sure to rest a lot. Especially if you have risk factors for complications, it’s important to take it easy until you are completely better.

May you stay healthy this flu season!


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