There are reports that flu season is coming early this winter. While the incidence of influenza generally peaks in February in the United States, public health officials in several communities around the country are already reporting levels of flu uncommonly high for December. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu cases have risen dramatically since Thanksgiving, and it is expected that this season might be the earliest and most severe since 2003-2004.
The good news is that it’s not too late to protect your family from flu. There’s no surefire way to avoid illness, but there are some ways to significantly reduce your risk:
- Practice good health habits. Get enough sleep, eat right, stay active, and try to manage stress. If it’s good for health in general, it’s good for flu prevention.
- Get up and go. Moderate exercise circulates immune cells through the body and sics them on infectious agents; regular exercise will build your immunity.
- Disinfect your home. Wipe down surfaces where you prepare food or put books, laptops, phones, and other handheld items to keep germs from spreading
- Clean up where your children play. Children are frequently—inadvertently—responsible for bringing germs into your home. Wash hands immediately after playtime with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
- Wash your hands. Regular handwashing is one of the easiest ways to stop the spread of disease, and one of the most effective.
- Think twice before you share. Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, lip gloss, or anything else that goes in or around your mouth. Flu can take as many as three days to show symptoms, so someone who looks healthy—and thinks they’re healthy—may not be.
- Stay hydrated. Cold weather is dry weather in many areas, and hot and dry buildings can also be dehydrating. When you’re dehydrated, you’re more susceptible to illnesses such as flu.
Another thing you can do to stay protected in flu season is get vaccinated. Anyone six years or older can benefit from the flu shot—ask your pediatrician about younger children—and chronically ill people and those over 50 should be particularly sure to be vaccinated. Because the influenza virus changes from year to year, you need to be vaccinated even if you were vaccinated last year. This year, there is plenty of vaccine available, and you can often get it inexpensively at the pharmacy.