Flu (influenza) season is about to begin. Perhaps you have forgotten the aches, chills, headache, fever, weakness and fatigue, sore throat, congestion, cough, and general misery you experienced last time you had flu? Take a moment to remember. Shudder a little. Now, make an action plan to prevent succumbing to flu this year.
Note: Arguably more important than avoiding your own misery is not putting others at high risk if you do contract this highly-contagious virus. Thousands die each year from the flu and related complications. Those most at risk are the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or immune systems suppressed by disease or medications. Even if being out sick for a few days doesn’t worry you, it could potentially threaten the life of someone you come in contact with once you have it.
Get your annual flu shot – the earlier, the better
Most people can take advantage of the inactivated (killed) vaccine – a.k.a. “flu shot.” This does not cause the flu, can be taken even if you have a light cold, and takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop. This vaccine is developed to protect against the three or four viruses expected to be the most common during this year’s flu season.
Flu Clinics: This fall, scheduled flu clinics are available to existing patients at Cheshire Medical Center, Walpole Family Practice, and Winchester Family Practice. See a full listing here or call Cheshire’s Flu Clinic Hotline at (603) 354-5405
Talk to your doctor first – if you have an egg allergy, have had a previous allergic reaction to an influenza vaccine, or have ever had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).
Practice good hygiene
- Wash your hands regularly, and thoroughly – count at least 15 seconds while washing with soap. Wash after using the bathroom, and touching shared surfaces (doorknobs, the copier at work) or your face. One study showed one single doorknob could spread a virus to 40–60 percent of workers within just 2–4 hours of contamination. Hand washing reduced the spread by 80-99%.
- Stop touching your face (eyes, nose, mouth) so much. We all do this countless times a day – most of us without any thought. This will help keep you safe from germs picked up on your hands and help stop you from infecting others.
- Disinfect your phone regularly. Well done for washing after shaking hands with that client or pressing that button on the elevator. Unfortunately, you touched your phone before you washed them and now it is right back in your hands again. Disposable disinfecting wipes can help your phone stay clean without damaging it.
- Bring your own pen, especially if it has a stylus tip so you don’t have to use the stylus on the credit card machine at the grocery store. If you do have to use it, wash your hands before you touch your face (do you see a pattern emerging here?).
- Avoid shared food and spaces. While seeking comfort from the companionship of others is important during the darker days of flu season, be wary of buffets, potluck dinners, and crowds.
- Be prepared – make sure your home and office have an adequate supply of soap, disinfecting wipes, alcohol-based hand rubs, tissues, and paper towels on hand. Then, let everyone you share space with know it is each person’s responsibility to stop the spread of germs through both personal hygiene and keeping all commonly touched surfaces clean.
- Teach kids good habits – Asking your daycare provider and children’s teachers what they do for cold and flu prevention can be helpful. However, teaching your children good hygiene habits at home, and stressing why these are especially important to follow outside the home, can go a long way to keeping the whole family healthy.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Prioritize 7-9 hours of good quality sleep every night. Lack of sleep negatively affects your immune response. In fact, people with chronic sleep loss take longer to develop immunity after receiving a flu shot and are more likely to develop a cold after exposure than those with adequate sleep. Find just a few foods rich in these micronutrients here.
- Get regular, moderate exercise. Compared to a sedentary lifestyle, moderate exercise most days of the week significantly reduces your risk of getting upper respiratory infections. However, strenuous exercise (high-intensity, prolonged exercise like running a marathon) can have the opposite effect.
- Get help to reduce chronic stress, loneliness, and depression. These three can go hand in hand, yet each can depress immune function independent of each other, especially in older adults. Like those with chronic sleep loss, chronically stressed caregivers and lonely college students experienced less protection from flu shots because their immune systems did not respond as vigorously as the immune systems of the control groups.