Putting up with a headache or a runny nose? If so, you’re not alone. It’s time to get ready for flu season, which begins officially this month. The CDC has found flu season to last anywhere between October and March, often peaking in December through February. And, of course, fall and winter also bring the common cold. So what can you do to be prepared? Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to stay healthy during cold and flu season this year.
Cold or Flu?
If you’re feeling sick, the first thing to check is whether you have a cold or the flu. The flu is generally more severe than the common cold and produces dry coughs, fatigue, painful aches and fever. In older people, severe flu can even lead to death. A cold is much milder, normally causing a runny or congested nose and a slight headache. Colds usually last a few days, whereas the flu can last up to a few weeks. The good news is that there are preventative measures you can take for both colds and flus.
1. Get Vaccinated
Getting a flu shot is the best thing you can do to keep yourself from getting sick this season. The flu vaccine is made available in the fall and can be found at local pharmacies, clinics, schools and workplaces. Each year, a new vaccine is released with different virus strains, which the body will then develop antibodies against. Once vaccinated, you should be fully protected within two weeks. But there’s still a chance of getting the flu, especially if others in your community have not received the vaccine. It all depends on how the virus is spread between people, which is why good hygiene practices are essential.
2. Practice Good Hygiene
The only way to get the flu or common cold is from another person. Therefore, it’s important to keep yourself clean and out of contact with sick people whenever possible. Always thoroughly wash your hands, cover your mouth while sneezing and avoid touching your nose and mouth throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to use sterile wipes on commonly used surfaces, such as laptops and desks.
3. Feeling Sick? Stay at Home.
To avoid spreading a cold or flu, it’s best to stay at home if you’re feeling sick. Schools and workplaces are the most common forums for spreading disease, especially in cafeterias and bathrooms. If you do have to go in, let your boss or teacher know that you’re sick and keep your distance from other people as much as possible. And encourage your students, co–workers and employees to stay home if they’re feeling sick—we’re all in this together!
4. Keep Physically Active
It’s getting cold, but try to fight the urge to lie around at home through the fall and winter months. Keeping up a healthy immune system is critical for staying healthy through cold and flu season, and the more you exercise the more likely you are to avoid illness. Also be sure to keep your fatigue in check by sleeping well and managing stress.
5. Eat Well
Cold weather means we’re likely to gravitate toward our favorite comfort foods, some of which are unhealthy and can increase the risk for cold and flu. You can boost your immune system by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, which contain Vitamin C and antioxidants, and avoid eating foods that are high in fat and cholesterol. And when you’re feeling low, try to brighten your mood with a warm bowl of soup!