by Jackie Silver
While cold viruses are present year-round, the chance of catching a cold or the flu increases in the fall, but it’s possible to stay healthy during flu season. Influenza season starts right about now, in November, with peak season from late December through early March. There are many different cold and flu viruses, which are typically spread by coughing, sneezing or touching a contaminated surface and then touching your mouth or nose. You can infect someone beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick, so it’s possible to spread the flu to others even before you know you’re sick, as well as while you’re ill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC,) every year in the U.S., on average, five to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. Symptoms of flu include:
- fever (usually high)
- extreme tiredness
- dry cough, sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- muscle aches
- stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Cold & flu tips:
1) Practice frequent hand washing. Perhaps the number one way to lessen the chance of getting sick is to practice frequent hand washing with soap and warm water. The Mayo Clinic offers these tips for proper hand washing:
- Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 15 – 20 seconds. (For children, tell them to sing the ABC song or Happy Birthday)
- Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under fingernails
- Rinse well
- Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel
- Use a towel to turn off the faucet.
2) Avoid touching your nose, eyes and mouth. You can’t keep all germs off your hands all the time, so make sure you keep your hands away from areas where germs can enter your body.
3) Cover your nose and mouth. To help curtail the spread of germs, sneeze or cough into your elbow (curtails hand to hand contact) and try to stay home whenever possible when you’re sick.
4) Avoid crowds. Avoiding overcrowded places where people may be coughing or sneezing is one way to stay healthier.
5) Exercise, eat right, sleep, stay hydrated. Keeping your immune system strong is an excellent preventative measure when it comes to colds and flu. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, plenty of fluids and adequate sleep all contribute to a healthy immune system. A healthy body is better able to fend off respiratory illness.
6) Try a salt water gargle. Sometimes the old tried-and-true methods can be the best solution. Several studies have found that gargling several times a day with warm salt water can reduce swelling in the throat and loosen mucus, helping to flush out irritants or bacteria. Doctors generally recommend dissolving half a teaspoon of salt in one cup of water.
Taking steps to avoid a cold or the flu may enable you to stay healthy throughout the season, as well as prevent the spread of illness to others.