It’s the time of year filled with chilly mornings, crinkly leaves, backyard bonfires and hearty soups. However, it is also when the flu virus begins to ramp up again in our communities.
Flu season typically runs through the fall and winter months, starting in October and peaking between December and February. And this year, there is also the added factor of us facing the COVID-19 pandemic at the same time.
Emily Simpson, MD, a Mercy Health infectious disease specialist, has some great tips to help you and your loved ones stay healthy this flu season.
Building your immunity
“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. And 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.”
Getting your flu shot will be even more critical this year because of COVID-19. Dr. Simpson recommends everyone over the age of six months gets a flu vaccine. If you have any questions or concerns, first talk with your primary care provider.
Take care of your general health
Can our daily habits affect whether we get sick 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 sick.
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 as well.
Fighting off germs
The holiday season will look a little different this year due to COVID-19. Luckily, the same preventive actions everyone should currently be practicing to help fight COVID-19 also help you avoid flu germs.
Wear a face mask
Clinical evidence tells us that wearing a face mask at this time is very important in terms of stopping the spread of COVID-19. Everyone should be wearing a face mask when out in public, especially in situations where social distancing is hard to maintain. Please note that children under the age of two should not wear face masks as well as individuals who are unconscious or incapacitated in some way.
Practice social distancing
In addition to wearing face masks in public, everyone should currently be practicing social distancing at this time. This means keeping a distance of at least six feet or more from others who are not in your immediate household.
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 or coughing and after arriving home after running errands.
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, with dirty hands will also help keep germs away.
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, which may include fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat or body aches, you should call your primary care provider’s office. You may be encouraged to complete a virtual visit.