Fighting the Flu: What You Can Do Beyond Getting the Shot
The medical community’s first recommendation for flu prevention is to get your annual flu shot. Fortunately, there are many places in and around Birmingham to get your flu shot this year, including UAB Medicine’s Injection Clinics.
Even before flu season begins, it’s a smart idea to arm yourself with knowledge about what to expect from this year’s flu. Rachael Lee, MD, assistant professor in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, advises patients to check with local health departments to see if the flu season has begun. To keep yourself informed as the season unfolds, check the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report for nationwide flu data and the more localized seasonal flu updates from the Jefferson County Department of Health.
There are smart things you can do to help prevent the flu and keep your family healthy this fall and winter. Here are seven prevention tips that can be highly effective, especially for high-risk populations such as children, elderly adults, pregnant women, and anyone with a chronic illness:
1. Avoid Germs and Crowds: Dr. Lee advises patients to avoid crowded areas during peak flu season as much as possible, as the flu is highly contagious and can easily and quickly spread within large crowds of people. Unfortunately, this may mean skipping certain events or shopping online instead of going to the mall. However, it also can help you avoid feeling terrible, taking multiple sick days, and missing out on life’s small pleasures during flu season.
2. Keep Your Home Clean: Another effective measure in preventing the flu, especially in households with patients at high risk, is to disinfect surfaces that have been touched by those with flu. Start your housecleaning routine with frequently touched hard surfaces such as drawers, remote controls, light switches, and doorknobs. It’s also a good idea to change or wash hand towels more frequently.
3. Limit Household Visitors: As much as you may enjoy houseguests, it’s wise to limit your exposure to visitors in the home during peak flu season. “Ask potential visitors who have been exposed to the flu or who have symptoms of the flu not to visit until they are better,” Dr. Lee suggests. Explain your reasoning to potential guests so that you don’t appear rude, and they will understand and respect your wishes for wellness.
4. Practice Good Hand Hygiene: Practicing good hygiene may sound simple enough, but it’s easy to get in a rush and not wash your hands for the full 20 seconds recommended by medical professionals. “Have hand hygiene supplies handy, and perform hand hygiene as much as possible,” Dr. Lee recommends. Also, get into the habit of covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze to prevent the potential spread of viruses to strangers and loved ones. Then make sure to wash your hands afterward, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not immediately available.
5. Eat a Healthy Diet: What you eat on a daily basis also goes a long way in preventing the flu and keeping you healthy during flu season. Fresh fruits and vegetables work wonders for boosting the immune system, as does frequent exercise, reducing daily stress, and getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Good foods that may help you fight the flu include flavonoid-rich foods such as blueberries, antiviral foods such as mushrooms, vitamin C-rich foods such as kiwi, zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, and probiotic-rich such as yogurt.
6. Get Your Family Vaccinated: Even if you personally plan to get your flu shot, other family members could bring viruses into the home if they haven’t gotten one, too. Encourage other members of your household and even neighbors to get the flu vaccine, Dr. Lee advises. With flu season fast approaching, now is the time to start thinking proactively and make flu shots an annual family tradition.