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A Hypochondriac’s Guide of What Not to Do During Flu Season

It's important to learn the best tips for keeping healthy and avoiding the flu.

Relax—there are things you can do to avoid flu

If you’re the kind of person that can imagine flu virus crawling across the counter toward you, you’ll want to make use of this guide. The reality is that fewer than one in five people actually get the virus in any given winter, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And if you get your flu shot—you did, right?—you gain even more protection. But if you want more protection, this guide will help.

The yellow leaves of yellow birch in autumn in the backlight / Autumn leaves yellow birch Bastian Kienitz/Shutterstock

Don’t think you’re safe because it’s late (or early)

Flu season can begin as early as October or November, with the cases climbing throughout the winter. Doctors and government officials say it’s possible the flu season can extend through March. Here’s where the flu “goes” when it’s not flu season.

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Don’t touch any “invisible” germs

The flu can live on hard surfaces for up to 24 hours. Some you might not think of: the fridge door handle and microwave buttons in the breakroom at work; restaurant menus and condiments; and of course, public restroom sink and door handles. However, as long as you’ve cleansed your hands properly, you’re clean. A study published in the journal mSphere found handwashing is more effective in protecting against both dry and non-dry infectious mucus than using hand sanitizer.

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Don’t get too close to someone with the flu

Strange but true: Even though the flu doesn’t have legs, it can spread up to about six feet away when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or even talks. Here are 12 more flu myths that actually prove to be accurate.

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Don’t imagine your flu shot is bulletproof

Or the opposite: Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the flu shot is only 40 percent to 60 percent effective in reducing the risk of flu illness you should make sure you get one. (A flu shot is considered effective if it helps prevent hospitalizations and deaths, not necessarily every symptom.) Don’t be the minority of Americans who don’t get it, including, shockingly, only 78 percent of health care workers. If cost is of concern, check with your health insurance; it might be covered under your plan. Learn how to tell the difference between the cold and the flu.

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Don’t overlook the power of zinc

Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can depress the immune system. Try some dark chocolate or a handful of peanuts for a healthy dose of this essential mineral. Find out what foods you should (and shouldn’t) eat when you have the flu.

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Don’t ignore Nana: Chicken soup may help

Grandma’s favorite remedy actually contains cysteine, which is a compound that helps thin mucus and relieve congestion. Keep in mind these serious signs that your flu might be deadly.

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Don’t dry out your home

According to a 2014 study higher humidity lowers transmission, so investing in a humidifier can make a big difference. Here are 10 ways doctors avoid getting colds and flu.

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Don’t neglect your parents: They need extra protection

Even though it’s the best defense against the flu, older immune systems don’t get as strong of a boost from flu shots as younger people do. Your parents, grandparents, and older adults in general should take added precautionary measures against getting sick. Learn which cold and flu medicines you should always have on hand.

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Don’t forget to laugh

Laughing lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body while increasing a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Laughter really is the best medicine, after all. Read on for exactly how to protect yourself from the worst flu month of the year.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Oscar H. Cingolani, MD, on November 23, 2019