It’s the time of year filled with chilly mornings, crinkly leaves, backyard bonfires and hearty soups. However, it is also the time of year when the flu begins to ramp up yet again.
Flu season typically runs through the fall and winter months, starting in October and peaking between December and February.
Mercy Health infectious disease specialist Emily Simpson, M.D., has some great tips on ways you can prevent the flu this year.
“The best way to protect yourself is to get the flu vaccine every year,” says Dr. Simpson.
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to provide full protection as your body creates antibodies to fend off the virus. Dr. Simpson recommends getting the shot by Halloween. However, you can still benefit from getting vaccinated later in the season.
“The vaccine can make you less sick even if you do get the flu,” she says.
It also helps protect those around you by reducing the likelihood of you getting the flu and passing it on.
For people who have concerns about the vaccine, Dr. Simpson has some assurance.
“We have many people looking at the safety and efficacy of the flu vaccine over many years,” she says. “It’s extensively researched and should be safe for most everybody. Also, the flu vaccine can’t give you the flu, since it’s a piece of dead flu.”
Dr. Simpson recommends everyone over the age of six months gets a flu vaccine. If you have any questions or concerns, talk with your primary care physician.
Take care of your general health
Can our daily habits affect whether we get the flu or not?
“Absolutely,” says Dr. Simpson. “As a society, we’re sleep deprived, overstimulated, stressed… all of these things affect our ability to overcome all the things we encounter on a daily basis.”
Research suggests stress affects our ability to fight off infection, including the flu. Thus, all the things you can do to stay healthy — spiritually, emotionally, physically — this season will reduce your likelihood of getting the flu.
These items include:
- Fueling your body with nutritious foods
- Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated
- Staying active and exercising
- Getting enough quality sleep
- Participating in activities to reduce stress and improve mental health
Taking time to focus on self-care is especially important during flu season.
Limiting contact with the virus
With the holiday season fast approaching, life gets very busy during flu season. All of the extra errands, parties and traveling increases our chances of encountering germs.
While it would be effective to “quarantine yourself in a room for five months,” jokes Dr. Simpson, that’s not realistic. For the everyday situations, here are practical ways you can limit your contact with the flu virus.
Wash your hands
A good hand scrub involves getting your hands wet, lathering and scrubbing with soap for 20 seconds, rinsing hands clean, and drying them with a towel or air dryer. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Be sure to wash your hands before and after eating, after using the restroom, after sneezing and after taking care of a child or animal.
Avoid touching your face
Germs are often spread when someone touches germs and then touches their face. Some of these surfaces we touch daily can stay contaminated for a good 24 hours, according to Dr. Simpson. Making an effort to not touch your face, especially your eyes, nose and mouth, will help keep the flu germs away.
Learn about the 10 germiest things you touch every day.