Cold and flu season is in full swing and this year people seem to be more aware of symptoms creeping up. Maybe it’s because it seems to have started earlier than usual this year. Maybe it’s because of the Ebola scare (see the difference between flu and Ebola here) that is drawing huge media attention right now. Many people are avoiding co-workers that are showing symptoms of the cough, cold, or flu in the cubicle next to them. Get a grip before the grip gets you. We’ve consulted dozens of medical experts to bring you 12 ways to avoid colds and flu this season.
Wash Your Hands
It sounds so simple and even cliche’ but it is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs. Every time you shake someones hand, wash yours. But don’t stop there. Wash them as much as possible and for 20 seconds every time. Running lots of warm water over your hands will dilute any germs and send them down the drain. If you do not have a sink near you, the next best thing is sanitizer. Keep a stash handy, especially if you are constantly having to shake someone’s hand or work with students and children.
Keep your hands off
Touching your nose and your eyes are the most common places for germs to get in. It’s a hard habit to break, but if you do end up touching your face, try to wash your hands right away. Biting your nails may also be hurting you. Germs get under your nails and nibbling is a fast way to ingest them.
Go to bed
As if getting enough sleep on a normal basis isn’t hard enough, you need more z’s when you’re feeling under the weather. When you’re tired, your body isn’t fighting as hard, so getting 8 to 10 hours a night is crucial.
Get your shot
Finding flu shots should be easier this year than it was last year, but you should still get one early as early as possible, especially if you are older, younger, or are high risk. While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the three or four viruses that research suggests will be most common. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
Keep your distance from people displaying symptoms like sneezing and coughing. While that strategy may seem obvious, it applies to more than just strangers and colleagues. Stay away from sick friends and family when possible.
Keep sanitizing gel or alcohol-based hand wipes on you at all times. But make sure you read the label before you buy. Some wipes are not alcohol-based and won’t be as effective.
Smoking increases the risk of infections by making structural changes in the respiratory tract and decreasing immune response, according to a recent study. In particular smoking destroys cilia (the little hairlike fibers inside our noses) which can help increase infection risks.
Don’t Double Dip
Beware of the dip. It may be harboring more than savory salsa. Double-dippers may be passing germs to those who eat after them. It’s better to spoon a bit of dip onto your own plate and then eat. Also, be wary of sharing a soda or other drink or food with someone, even if you are close to them.
Wipe down everything
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school, especially when someone is ill. Don’t forget to disinfect the cart when at the grocery store. Colds and flu are caused by viruses, which can easily pass from person to person, or from surface to person. Computer keyboards, telephones, door knobs, pens that are given to you — all of these are surfaces that have great potential for harboring germs. Even our purses pick up germs like we do, so you could be re-infecting yourself every time you pick up your handbag. Put away your cloth purse during the winter months and carry one made of easier-to-wipe-down vinyl or leather. Wipe down at least once a day with a sanitizing wipe. Of course, you could always just buy more purses.
Practice healthy habits
Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food. Also, keep hands away from your food during cold and flu season. Try to bring something you can eat with a spoon or fork, rather than a sandwich you have to handle. If you’re going to eat a sandwich, put a tissue or paper towel around it first. Get those sweats on and exercise. Working out regularly enhances immune function. Even a brisk walk will help get your immune system working.
Try to smile
New research has found that happiness may help you. Positive thinking, playing with a pet, hanging out with family and friends, and other pleasurable behaviors will help boost your immune system.
It may sound strange, but when you have to cough and sneeze, do so into the crook of your elbow, not into your hands. Since your hands are a common source of germs, doing that will prevent them from spreading. In preschools, this is taught to children as the vampire cough or sneeze.
Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever. If you are already showing signs of a cold or flu, here are several things you can do to get better.
Take some alone time
This is the when you’ll want to shy away from company. Stay home and take care of yourself. Cover yourself if you need to go out with protective wear.
Watch your symptoms
If it goes from simple sniffles to raging sickness, contact your doctor. Your cold may have escalated to the flu.
Drink, drink, drink
Dehydration can easily occur (especially if you are running a fever or vomiting). If you’re unable to keep fluids down, contact your physician.
Nows not the time to save up
Dispose of all used tissues. As easy as it is to grab whatever is on the nightstand (including crumpled Kleenex), don’t! You may be furthering the cold. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.