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Stay Healthy All Winter

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Shot Talk
The best way to ensure you and your family a flu-free season is with a vaccination. Yet in 2010 less than half of American adults were vaccinated, says Susan Rehm, M.D., medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Her patients typically offer one of these rationales. Here's what she says.

1. "I'll get the flu from the vaccine."
"This is literally impossible," says Rehm. When people say they're experiencing symptoms after being vaccinated, they usually don't have the flu, but another virus that also causes fever, chills, body aches and fatigue. In the rare instance that they actually come down with the flu, it's because they were exposed to the illness before receiving the shot. The short answer: coincidence.

2. "What's the big deal if I get the flu? It's annoying but harmless."
Each year more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to respiratory and heart complications associated with influenza. "Even when you have a less severe case, it still disrupts your life and puts other people around you in danger, especially kids and the elderly," says Rehm.

3. "The shot only works in the fall."
The sooner you get vaccinated, the better. But if you wait until January or February, it will still protect you for the rest of the flu season, which can last through March.

Go to flu.gov/whereyoulive to find a flu vaccine provider near you.

You're Sick—Now What?
No matter how hard you try to stay healthy, sometimes germs will win. The best treatment is waiting it out—both colds and flu are caused by viruses, which can't be remedied with antibiotics. Drink lots of fluids, get some sleep and take an over-the-counter pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen until symptoms subside. See your doctor, though, if you have...

  • A cough that disrupts sleep
  • A fever that won't go down with medicine
  • Increased shortness of breath
  • Intense, burning sinus pain
  • Worsening of symptoms, high fever, chest pain, or a difference in the mucus you're producing, all after feeling better for a short time

Sick Stats:
200 - Number of viruses that cause the common cold
22 million - School days lost annually due to the common cold
5 to 7 - Number of days the flu is contagious

Does vitamin C really prevent colds?
Scientists have run several studies on vitamin C only to find that it does nothing to keep you from getting sick. But that doesn't mean you should stop drinking orange juice and toss your supplements. If you take a large dose of vitamin C at the first sniffle, you can reduce the severity and duration of your cold.

Another Option Ask about the nasal-spray seasonal flu vaccine, called FluMist. It's approved for use in healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49.

Originally published in the December 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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