It may seem like just a bad cold, but the flu’s effects can be far more serious. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are hospitalized every year due to influenza, and in 2018 alone, about 80,000 Americans died from this all-too-common illness.
Despite the statistics, there’s plenty you can do to boost your chances of staying flu-free this season. Kristen Sumners, DO, Lakeshore Health Partners – Family Medicine, offers five important tips:
- Get Your Flu Shot, Every Year
First and foremost, the best way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. A flu shot cannot cause the flu. The viruses contained in a shot are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Each year’s vaccine will protect against the flu viruses CDC researchers believe will be most common during that particular season. There are several different flu vaccines available, so talk to your health care provider about which option would work best for you.
- Wash Your Hands, A Lot
Washing your hands a lot with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (about the time it takes to sing “happy birthday twice”) is one of the most effective ways to prevent germs from spreading.
- Live Well, Stay Well
Living well by eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, exercising regularly, getting quality sleep, keeping stress in check, and quitting smoking can help your body stave off disease, including the flu.
- Take Antivirals
Prescription antivirals work best for treatment of flu when started within about two days of becoming ill. Antivirals are not the same as antibiotics, which are only useful for treating bacterial infections (not viruses like the flu). Antivirals can help alleviate symptoms, shorten the time you’re sick and may prevent serious flu complications.