The symptoms of the flu are never fun to deal with, but in many cases, the virus has become deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2018 flu season has seen one of the most severe strains, H3N2, become the most dominant. The CDC reported that the virus has already taken the lives of 20 children and has hit all states except Hawaii and the District of Columbia.
The life-threatening nature of the flu virus has prompted the CDC to issue a warning about how dangerous it is. Here’s what you need to do to stay healthy (and alive), and the one mistake you should avoid at all costs.
Flu season runs from October to May
Flu season runs from October to May, so each year, you should plan to get the flu vaccine early on. According to Nemours, the best time for anyone age 6 months or older to get the flu vaccine is from September to mid-November. This ensures that you’re protected before flu season’s worst months (December to early March), allowing your body to build up proper immunity.
Next: What if you didn’t get the flu vaccine in time?
Even if you think it’s too late to get the flu vaccine, think again
If you haven’t received your flu shot despite already being well into flu season, it’s not too late. Bernard Camins, MD, associate professor at the University of Alabama — Birmingham’s Division of Infectious Diseases, explained how you can still take preventive measures.
“If you have not gotten your flu shot, you are still encouraged to do so — but note that it typically takes two weeks to take effect,” he advised. “The current flu vaccine has three to four strains of influenza that it works against, so even if it is not very effective against the current circulating strain, it may be very effective against the three other strains.”
Next: Here are the worst mistakes you could make.
Constantly touching your eyes, mouth, or nose
If you’re out in public or perhaps flying somewhere warmer, make sure to minimize the amount you’re touching your face. This will help lower your odds of catching a cold or the flu.
Skyscanner reports that to reduce your chances of catching a cold or the flu when you fly, you should avoid touching your face. “The number one rule is to not touch your eyes, mouth or the inside of your nose,” the publication notes. But that can be tough to achieve. So Skyscanner adds, “A more realistic option is to make sure your hands are clean if you do touch your eyes, mouth or nose.”
Next: Watch your intake of these to help your immune system.
Drinking alcohol or caffeine
Sure, there might not be enough to do besides drink when the weather gets unbearably cold, but you should avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine to help keep your immune system in shape. Both kinds of beverages can dehydrate you. And when you’re dehydrated, your immune system takes a hit — the exact opposite of what you want when you need to fight off the flu season. At the very least, make sure to drink extra water.
Next: We know this mistake is hard, but at least try to watch out for it.
Not staying away from sugar
While you should be adding nutrient-rich foods to your diet, you should also cut down on sugar. According to Prevention, foods that are high in sugar can suppress your immune system, preventing white blood cells from fighting off bacteria and viruses. For women, it’s best to have 6 teaspoons or fewer per day, while men should aim for fewer than 9 teaspoons.
The foods we eat impact our immune system’s ability to fight off unwanted colds. Stock up on tons of fruits and vegetables to pack your meals with vitamins and other health-boosting nutrients. Some of the best foods you can eat to avoid getting sick include squash, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins. These ingredients are all full of beta-carotene, which Health says will bolster your immune system. You should also reach for peppers, citrus fruits, and leafy greens.
Next: This is the single worst thing you can do.
The worst thing you can do: Not get the flu vaccine
The worst thing you can do is not get the vaccine at all. Even if you’re one of the rare people who has never caught the flu virus despite going years without a vaccine, you’re still at risk. The New York Times described just how easily anyone can become infected:
Influenza, commonly called the flu, spreads easily. You can catch it from someone who coughs, sneezes, or even talks to you from up to six feet away. You can infect others a day before you show any symptoms, and up to a week after becoming sick. Children can pass along the virus for even longer than that.
Next: Maybe this will convince you to get the vaccine.
It’s not all about you
If you’ve simply decided you’ll take your chances and not get the vaccine, consider this: It’s not all about you. Children, babies, and adults 65 and older are particularly susceptible to the deadly dangers of the flu. All adults should be vaccinated because even if a flu strain doesn’t hit you that hard, you could potentially threaten the lives of others by infecting them.
Next: You’ll be surprised by how easy this is.
Here’s how you can get the vaccine
If you’ve decided to get the flu vaccine, your doctor’s office isn’t the only option. Many pharmacies, supermarkets, community groups or centers, or even schools will administer the shot.
Make sure you know what kind of payment or insurance coverage you’ll require prior to receiving the vaccine. According to Nemours, “If you have an HMO insurance plan, be sure to check with your primary care doctor before having [yourself or] your kids vaccinated outside the office, since most HMOs will pay for shots only if they’re given through their plan.”
Next: Here’s what else you can do.
Consistently practice healthy habits
It’s so important to consistently practice healthy habits — especially during flu season. The CDC recommends avoiding close contact with others who are sick, covering your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing, washing your hands often, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
It also advises leading a healthy lifestyle: “Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.”
Next: If you end up catching the flu, this is what you need to do immediately.
What to do if you do catch the flu
If you end up catching the flu, make sure to start treating your symptoms immediately. Typical flu symptoms include fever or chills, coughing, sore throat, runny nose, headaches, muscle and body aches, fatigue, and vomiting.
Dr. Helen Ewing, Dean of Nursing at Carrington College, suggests “getting plenty of rest, drinking fluids to stay hydrated, and taking over-the-counter medications to manage the symptoms.”
Ewing advised that further medical attention is only necessary if you notice particularly concerning symptoms. Otherwise, your body should be able to fight it off. She explained, “It is important to seek medical attention if you cannot drink enough fluids and become dehydrated, or if the flu symptoms are not going away and are worsening as this may indicate flu complications.”
Whether you’re experiencing severe or mild symptoms, take the CDC’s advice and “stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.” You may not have the most relaxing day off, but you’ll do everyone else a favor by keeping the flu virus from spreading.
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