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Staying Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

woman wrapped in blanket on couch blowing her nose

It might seem like summer has only just ended, but it’s time to get ready for cold and flu season. According to the CDC, flu season runs from about October to May each year. The flu is a serious illness no matter who catches it, but it’s especially dangerous for older adults over 65, infants and young children, and pregnant women. People with certain health conditions or weakened immune systems are also at high risk. Thousands of people die from flu each year, and more than that will be hospitalized. With all of that in mind, the best thing you can do is start preparing now. Following these healthy tips can help to boost your immune system and stop the flu in its tracks! 

Should I Get A Flu Shot?

In short: yes! The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu is to get vaccinated. Flu shots are available at your doctor’s office, many school clinics and local pharmacies. Many workplaces also offer flu shots as part of an annual wellness fair; check with yours to see if that’s on the schedule. Here are some of the most important facts about the flu shot.

  • The shot is free under most insurance, including Virginia Premier.
  • Although the shot is most effective, an inhaled flu vaccine is also available for those who are especially bothered by needles. Your doctor will be able to help you decide what’s best for you, although for those who are most at risk, the inhaled vaccine is not recommended.
  • Both vaccines work similarly: the shot uses an inactive virus and the inhaled vaccine uses a weakened live virus. In either form, it activates your immune system and helps your body create antibodies that will fight the flu.
  • The flu shot is not 100% effective, but it’s still worth getting. If you do get sick, your symptoms will be much milder, and you’ll be back on your feet a lot quicker. (Remember, the flu can last for weeks.) It also lowers your risk of passing on the virus to someone vulnerable, such as babies and the elderly.
  • Aim to get your flu shot by the end of October. It takes a couple of weeks to fully take effect, and you’ll want to be protected before flu season kicks into high gear. Flu shots last for about six to seven months, so one shot at the beginning of the season will keep you safe until spring. There is no need to get a second flu shot.

Preparing for Cold and Flu Season

So now that you’ve gotten your flu shot, what’s next? It’s time to stock up. Just like you might go out and buy shelf-stable food, water and batteries at the beginning of hurricane season, make sure you buy all the things you might need in case of flu while you’re well. You might never need them, and we hope that you don’t, but it’s better to be prepared than to find yourself sick and out of the things that will help you feel better. Everyone has their favorite cold and flu remedies, but as a rule of thumb, here’s what you’ll want in your medicine cabinet:

  • Tissues
  • Pain reliever, like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Decongestant
  • Cough medicine
  • Cough drops
  • Thermometer
  • Alcohol-based hand cleaners (like Purell)
  • Face masks, for if you have to go out

You’ll also want to stock up on fluids, like juice and broth, as well as solid food that’s easy to eat. You aren’t going to want to go to the store if you’re sick, but you will need to eat something.  Saltine crackers, white rice, toast, and applesauce are all gentle on the stomach. Hydrating drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade and Pedialyte, are also helpful to have on hand.

Cold and Flu Prevention

There’s plenty you can do throughout cold and flu season to lower your risk of getting sick.

  • It’s smart to maintain a healthy lifestyle no matter what time of year it is, but keeping fit will help your body stay well. Eating a balanced diet, getting good sleep, being active, and managing stress all help the body to be healthy and strong.
  • If you aren’t already, make sure to incorporate foods rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, like citrus fruits, or take a vitamin C supplement each day. The better shape your body is in, the stronger your immune system will be!
  • It might seem simple, but one of the best things you can do to prevent illnesses of any kind is washing your hands. Be sure to wash your hands whenever you’re handling or serving food, after using the toilet, after sneezing or coughing, and any time you’re around bodily fluids, whether they’re yours or someone else’s. Use soap and water, and scrub them for at least twenty seconds. Always use a clean towel to dry your hands off. If you’re not near a sink, alcohol-based hand sanitizers will do in a pinch.
  • Now is also a good time to make sure that your home is sparkling clean. Germs can linger on hard surfaces for a long time. Even if you’re doing everything else right, you could pick up the flu from a germy door knob.
  • Wipe down door handles, kitchen counters, and especially your tub, toilet and sink with bleach-based cleaners or wipes at least once a week. If you want to be extra vigilant, keep antibacterial wipes on hand at work and when you travel, particularly if you’re using public transit. You may be working hard to protect yourself and your family from the flu, but you can’t guarantee that everyone around you is too.

We hope these healthy cold and flu season tips help to keep you well throughout the cold weather months!

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