Don’t let fevers, body aches, congestion and coughs creep through your front door! While flu activity is especially high this season—nearly 5,500 people have been hospitalized since October—and the CDC predicts it will remain elevated for the next few months, there are simple ways to stay protected. The vaccine offers your best defense, even if it doesn’t cover all strains. “A shot will still decrease your chances of getting sick, and it's never too late in the season to get it,” says Keri Peterson, MD, an internal medicine doctor in NYC. In addition to getting vaccinated, shield yourself and your family with these strategies from Peterson.
1. Make Your Face Off-Limits.
“A big thing people forget is that they shouldn’t touch their eyes, nose or mouth, because that’s a direct entry point for germs,” says Peterson. Pretend there’s a glass table around your neck, meaning your hands cannot go above it.
2. Lather Up Often.
Scrub your hands with soap and water several times a day, especially if you’ve touched a potentially contaminated area like a subway pole, doorknobs, faucet handles, kitchen sponges or that pen on a chain at the bank. When you’re on the go, use hand sanitizer or antibacterial hand wipes (try Wet Ones, from $2), which kill germs as well as remove them.
3. Stop the Spread of Bacteria.
A few easy tricks will help minimize the germs you disperse and pick up. Cough into your elbow instead of your hand, and fist-bump instead of shaking hands. At home, regularly clean surfaces—like counters, handles, faucets, your phone, laptop and mouse and the toilet—with a disinfectant product or a bleach-and-water solution. Finally, skip the office when necessary. According to a Vicks survey, 48% of us still head to work outside the home with cold and flu symptoms, which just ups the risk of infecting others.
4. Boost Your Immune System.
Help your body fight off ailments by getting enough sleep and reducing stress, whether by practicing yoga or reading a good book. Exercise will also help you stay healthy, so break a sweat when you can—just remember to wipe down equipment if you head to the gym. Also, munch on more immunity-boosting foods like green leafy vegetables, antioxidant-packed berries and vitamin C−filled oranges.
5. Bundle Up.
The old wives' tale turns out to be true: You’re more susceptible to contracting an illness if you’re exposed to the pathogen outside in the cold. Chilly temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, and without sufficient blood flow to the back of the throat or the nose (where cold viruses live), your body can’t readily deliver immune system cells to those areas. This makes battling germs much more difficult.
6. Stay Away from the Sick.
If someone in your family does end up with influenza, get her to a doc. Antiviral meds should be taken within the first 48 hours to reduce the severity and duration of the condition. Then quarantine that individual to her room with instructions to cough and sneeze into tissues, drink lots of fluids, sip chicken soup (it has anti-inflammatory effects and loosens up mucus) and get lots of rest.