Each year, up to 20% of all Americans get the flu. And if you’ve ever had the flu, you know you never want to get it again! That’s why we’re offering up our best flu prevention strategies.
You probably already know that your best defense against the flu is to get an annual flu shot. That’s absolutely the case—while the flu shot isn’t 100% foolproof, it will protect you.
That protection is multilayered. Obviously, the flu shot can protect you from getting the flu, but if you end up getting a different strain of the flu after being vaccinated, your case of the flu will be shorter in length and less severe.
Because the flu shot is reformulated each year to protect against the flu strains thought to be most common that season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting an annual flu shot shot by the end of October. But if you haven’t been vaccinated yet, don’t worry—getting vaccinated after that date is fine!
Once you receive the flu shot, it takes about two weeks for your body to build up antibodies against the flu.
So, now that we’ve laid out the basics about the flu vaccine, read on as Michael Bryant, MD, internal medicine physician with West Tennessee Healthcare, offers some insight about other ways you can prevent the flu.
Flu Prevention 101
While the flu shot is your best defense against the flu, it’s not your only one. There are other steps you can take to lower your risk and keep flu at bay:
- Wash your hands. Yes, you should be washing your hands regularly with soap and water at all times of the year. But this practice is especially important in cold and flu season, since germs are seemingly everywhere. Wash your hands often—including after using the restroom or changing a diaper, before eating or preparing food, after touching commonly touched surfaces, and when coming into contact with those who may be sick.
- But be sure to wash them the right way. Have you ever thought about your handwashing technique? In order to get maximum germ protection from washing your hands, you want to ensure you’re doing it correctly. Wash your hands using soap and water for the length of time it takes you to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice, which is approximately 20 seconds. Ensure that you’re washing all surfaces of your hands, including between your fingers and under your nails. Rinse your hands using clean water, then dry.
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces. The surfaces around us in everyday life are germy—just think about how many hands have touched the light switch in the conference room at work! During cold and flu season, take time to regularly wipe off those surfaces, including phones, light switches, doorknobs, computer keyboards, shopping cart handles, and banister rails. A disinfectant wipe should do the trick.
- Avoid touching your face. Why, you might wonder? Because the majority of germs enter the body through the mouth, nose, and eyes. So, if you’re touching your face with germy hands, you run the very real risk of coming down with a cold or the flu. If you need to touch your face for any reason, wash your hands first.
- Steer clear of those who are sick. This might seem logical, but it’s especially important when it comes to the flu. The flu is extremely contagious, so being around someone who has symptoms puts you at a high risk. It’s better to be safe than sorry during the flu season, so keep your distance. If you’re the one with the flu, stay home to protect others!
- Practice healthy lifestyle habits. When your immune system is working well, it can help fend off illness. But when it’s weakened, your risk of developing illnesses like the flu increases. So ensure your immune system is working at its best by living a health lifestyle—exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week, eat a balanced diet filled with fruits and vegetables, get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, don’t smoke, and limit your alcohol consumption.
Still need a flu shot? Time to head to your doctor’s office! Need a doctor? Find one here.