Influenza, commonly known as the “flu”, is a highly contagious viral illness transmitted by coughing or sneezing. Most people experience a fever, sore throat, chills, cough and headache with the flu. However, in some cases, influenza can lead to potentially fatal complications such as pneumonia.
Vaccine recommended for anyone wanting to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza or spreading influenza to others.
Say Yes To The Flu Shot
The big news this year is that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending that everyone 6 months and older get the influenza vaccine–before, only those at highest risk of flu complications were urged to get it. “There’s a greater realization that we all interact with each other, so the best way to reduce the spread of flu is to vaccinate everyone,” says Susan Rehm, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
Eat To Beat Illness
“Diet is the fuel that runs the complex human machine and all of its parts, including the immune system,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. Essential power players include high-quality protein, such as fish, lean meats, and beans, needed to help build white blood cells (the body’s defenders); brightly colored fruits and veggies, which provide immune-boosting antioxidants; and omega-3 fatty acids (good sources include fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed) to keep the immune system balanced.
Exercise can keep you from getting sick by stimulating the immune cells that target cold infections, Dr. Fryhofer explains. A University of South Carolina study found that people who walked or did other moderate activity for 30 minutes most days averaged one cold per year, while less-active folks reported more than four colds per year.
Just don’t overdo it: Heavy exertion–like marathon training–may increase your risk of catching seasonal bugs, perhaps because it can stress the body’s systems, allowing viruses to gain a foothold.
Hydrate Inside And Out
Lower humidity and temperatures help the flu virus spread, which may explain why flu outbreaks peak in winter. Humidity, on the other hand, kills the virus, so keep air at home warm and moist. Use a humidifier to maintain around 50 percent humidity and set room temperatures to at least 69 degrees F.
If you’re going to be in a superdry environment like an airplane cabin, protect yourself by using a saline nasal spray to moisten the membranes in your nose. “When nasal passages are hydrated, the cilia, hair-like structures lining the nose, do a better job of keeping bacteria and viruses out,” Dr. Fryhofer says. Drink plenty of water, too: Your body needs H2O to execute many key immune functions, Dr. Katz says.
Sleep On It
Logging less than seven hours sleep in the weeks before being exposed to a cold virus can make you three times more likely to develop a respiratory illness than if you got eight or more hours, according to a study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That’s because even minor sleep deprivation suppresses immune function.
Give Germs The Slip
Your biggest defense against lurking cold and flu bugs: old-fashioned hand-washing. Soap up long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice through (about 20 seconds); if you can’t wash, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Be sure to scrub or sanitize after touching the germiest surfaces–doorknobs, fridge handles, TV remotes, bathroom faucets, and money–and after shaking hands. Keep your mitts off your face, to avoid giving germs a free ride into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Dodge Germs In The Air
Germ-filled droplets can fly through the air, too, so if someone within 6 feet of you is coughing or sneezing, turn your head away for about 10 seconds while the air clears, Dr. Fryhofer advises, and (if you’re in public, like in a cafe or on a bus or train) change seats as soon as you can.
And do your part to prevent the spread of germs: If you do get sick, sneeze into your sleeve, toss tissues immediately, and–if possible–stay home until you’re better.