“Oh boy, I can’t wait to get the flu”—said no one, ever. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between five and 20 percent of people in the U.S. do come down with the flu each year. The virus can be serious, too. Its complications send more than 200,000 people to the hospital during the average flu season. Worse, the flu evolves much faster than we do. So you never know when a strain might come along that can get past your defenses—even if you beat last year’s flu.
Can you get through flu season without the flu? There are no guarantees, but you can improve your odds with these safeguards:
1. Try not to have close contact with sick people.
Easy to say, not so easy to do. You can’t exactly barricade yourself in your room all winter. It’s still worth mentioning, though, because staying away from germs is an effective way to avoid catching them. If you do get sick, you can help others avoid your germs by staying home until at least 24 hours after your fever has gone away on its own.
2. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
The flu only makes you sick when it’s inside your body. And these openings on your face are the entrance it often uses. Which brings us to:
3. Perfect your hand-washing skills.
Sometimes you have to care for a sick loved one, or scratch an itch on your nose. You can’t really control those things. But this flu safeguard is literally all in your hands. The key is to wash them often and thoroughly. If your hands get dry from soaps or cold weather, use moisturizer. That’s important; you don’t want the skin on your hands to crack.
4. Keep yourself (and your immune system) in good shape.
What this means: Eat a healthy diet that is rich in vitamins. Get enough sleep. You will not only help your body stay in top form to fight off the flu, you’ll feel better all around.
5. Get a flu shot.
There are many reasons to do this. You can protect yourself from getting sick, as well as the people around you. Very young children and people with chronic health conditions have a higher risk of getting seriously ill from the flu. The vaccine may make your symptoms milder if you do get sick.
Bonus: Some employers—like UPMC—offer credit for employees and possibly their families for getting a flu shot as part of their employee wellness program.
This information is not meant to serve as medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns about getting the flu shot, make sure you speak with your doctor. Or call our 24/7 advice line at 1-866-918-1591.