Winter may not officially arrive this year until Dec. 22, but cold and flu season is already in full swing. Theres good news, though: A few simple actions can greatly reduce your chances of getting a cold or the flu and help prevent your family, friends and coworkers from becoming sick as well, says Joanne C. Langan, PhD, RN, coordinator of clinical resources at the Saint Louis University School of Nursing and a member of the universitys Pandemic Response Planning Committee.
These are common-sense steps everyone should take throughout the year, Langan says, but its especially important now that winters here and cold and flu season is under way. Its all about respecting yourself in order to stay healthy and respecting others so they can be healthy as well, Langan adds. No one wants to get sick or to pass along a cold or the flu to someone else.
Below are seven steps that Langan says are crucial to staying well this winter and prevent spreading cold or flu germs to others.
No. 1: Get a flu shot. Unquestionably, this is the most important way to avoid getting the flu and to prevent or contain an outbreak of the illness, which kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world each year. Flu shots are particularly important for people at high risk for serious complications from influenza including young children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. The best time to get vaccinated is October and November but you get a flu shot in December and January and still be protected. Flu season can last as late as May. And contrary to popular belief, theres no chance of getting the flu from a flu shot, says Langan. Thats because the viruses in the shots vaccine are dead, not live.
No. 2: Wash your hands often. A study published in a British medical journal earlier this year found that regular hand washing, with soap and water, was more effective than drugs in preventing the spread of respiratory viruses such as the flu. If you cant wash with soap and water, Langan says, alcohol-based gels and wipes can be used. The gel should be rubbed until its dry.
No. 3: Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Those are major points of entry for all kinds of germs, particularly those that cause colds and the flu, Langan says.
No. 4: Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
No. 5: Practice other good health habits. To keep your immune system as strong as possible, get plenty of sleep, eat nutritious food, drink plenty of water and other fluids and learn how to manage your stress.
No. 6: Cover your nose and mouth. If youre about to sneeze or cough, put your hand or a handkerchief over your nose and mouth or sneeze or cough into your sleeve. It may prevent those around you from getting sick, Langan says.
No. 7: If youre sick stay home, particularly if youre running a fever or sneezing or coughing a lot. Youll help prevent others from catching whatever you have.