Top Tips for Surviving Cold & Flu Season
February 04, 2020
Late fall and early winter bring the holidays and many other delights, and they also usher in a less welcome visitor: the flu. Taking precautions to avoid the flu, as well as staying on top of what strains are of most concern this year, is wise—and also fairly easy and not very time consuming.
Still, a lot of people wave off flu preparation as needless worry and think the flu is basically a bad cold. This is very wrong and a potentially deadly misunderstanding. In reality, the flu is a caused by specific viruses, is highly contagious, and can cause multiple serious symptoms, including:
- fever (or feeling feverish/chilled)
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle or body aches
The flu’s complications can lead to hospitalization or death, and it’s much more common than people think. Children and the elderly are most susceptible during cold & flu season, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, about anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu, or about 26,176,000 million people a year. Round that figure up to about 31.4 million people who visit the doctor, and 200,000 who end up in the hospital, every flu season. Anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die each year from flu-related causes.
Flu’s Financial Impact
The flu has other costs, too. According to the National Center for Health Research, each year cold & flu season causes:
- 17 millionmissed workdays
- $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity
- $10 billion spent on hospitalization and medical visits related to the flu
- 3-5 days missed bychildren who contract the flu will miss
Think you can’t get it? Think again. Catching the flu is as easy as catching a cold. People infected with the flu virus can spread it up to six feet through airborne droplets exchanged when they cough, sneeze or just talk — and the virus can be spread before infected people experience any symptoms at all.
Your Cold & Flu Season Survival Kit—Stay flu-free with some simple precautions
You can avoid the flu by being very proactive when it comes to your health, and that of those around you, during the winter months. Some basic steps:
- Avoid sick people. If someone in your home is ill, keep that person isolated as much as possible. If you have small children, consider having them stay with family or friends for a few days.
- Wash your hands frequently. After using the restroom of course, but also after touching your eyes, ears, nose, or mouth, which are entry points for the virus. Clean and disinfect surfaces frequently; the flu virus is tough and can live on them for hours.
- Don’t share food or drink. Avoid communal snacks, even that bucket of popcorn while watching a movie.
- Eat a balanced diet. Good nutrition is always a goal—during the flu season it’s even more essential for helping your body stay strong. This is a good time to ease up on sugar and alcohol consumption, for instance.
- Hydrate. Drink water as often as possible, as it helps keep mucous membranes soft and moist, preventing the tiny cracks that allow viruses and bacteria to enter your body.
- Get lots of rest. Make a good night’s sleep a priority that doesn’t budge.
Get a flu shot. Yes, you can still get the flu after a flu shot. But why take the risk? According to the CDC, the 2018-2019 series of flu vaccines reduced the risk of infection in adults by 45 percent to 47 percent, and those ae pretty good odds. In children from six months to 17 years old, it was effective for 61 percent to 62 percent. That was a big jump from the severe 2017-2018 season, when the vaccine was only 36 percent effective. It’s never going to be 100 percent effective, but the shot cuts your odds, and even if you do get sick it can lessen the severity of your symptoms.
Want to be a flu sleuth? You can follow how the flu is unfolding this year with a wealth of data from the CDC through its Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, found here.