Everyone knows the winter months are when cold and flu season strikes. Cold and flu season typically starts around September and can last until April. You catch your coworker sneezing, your neighbor is still coughing from the double whammy of a summer cold and straining of the head from a lingering cough that won’t shift, and you can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the dreaded flu season reaches your doors. The CDC estimates that the flu causes between 9 and 41 million illnesses each year, can put up to 710,000 people in the hospital, and is the cause of 12,00 to 52,000 deaths each year.
If you don’t want to be amongst the numbers and are looking for ways to avoid catching these highly contagious airborne viruses, this post looks at some ways you can protect yourself during cold and flu season to reduce your risk of becoming ill.
Wash your hands
First things first: Wash your hands. This is probably the most effective way to ward off any infection. When you’re out and about, whether at work, school, or even home, always keep your hands clean, this might sound like a no-brainer, but many people still don’t wash their hands as often as they should. Be sure to wash your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, and before touching anyone who might be sick.
You need to wash all parts of your hands, fingers, palms, and nails for a minimum of 20 seconds to help to break down any virus particles you may have come into contact with. Remember, water alone won’t do this. You need soap to clean your hands thoroughly. Avoid drying your hands with a cloth that others may have used, and stick to hand driers and paper towels you can quickly dispose of.
While this might seem like overkill, carrying a small packet of antibacterial wipes when going to public places can come in handy. It allows you to use the wipes to clean commonly touched surfaces where you think people may have been infected, such as door handles or bathroom fittings you need to touch too. This can reduce the risk of contamination from touching items when outside of the house. This is an excellent idea for immunocompromised people who are worried about the risk of being out and about this cold and flu season.
Use hand sanitizer
Hand sanitizers are a great way to avoid picking up germs from public surfaces and other people. If you don’t have access to a sink, make sure you have some hand sanitizer on you. For added protection, make sure to choose a formula that contains at least 60% alcohol. You simply rub the gel or liquid into your hands as you would when washing using soap and water for on-the-go protection in the absence of hand washing facilities.
Avoid touching your face and nose.
Yes, it’s tempting to touch your nose while sniffing, but resist the urge. Many of us do so without even realizing we are doing it. Studies have shown that people touch their faces around 23 times per hour which equates to touching your face every 2.6 seconds.
The nose is the number one way germs are transmitted, so try to keep your hands away from your face and nose. If you’re sick, keep your distance from loved ones who may be especially vulnerable to infection, like children and the elderly. Wash your hands regularly and try to avoid touching your face as much as possible.
Disinfect your home regularly.
This is especially important if someone in your household is sick. If you have kids or pets, you’re probably already familiar with disinfecting regularly. While it may seem excessive or overkill, disinfecting periodically is one of the best ways to avoid bringing in new infections. While you may be tempted to use chemical disinfectants like bleach or Lysol (which are effective but may pose health risks), eco-friendly alternatives like vinegar, club soda, and tea tree matures are also available.
Avoid sick people where possible.
Unfortunately, there are no magic spells that will make you completely immune to picking up an infection. If you’re in close contact with someone who is sick, there’s a good chance you’ll pick up whatever they have. If you’re at work or school and you see someone in the office or classroom who clearly has a cold or the flu, avoid them as much as possible. Try to stand around 1 meter away where possible and avoid touching your face or making physical contact with them. If you have to interact with them, be sure to wash your hands regularly to avoid spreading their germs.
Eat well and stay hydrated.
You may be inclined to eat whatever you can shovel down at this time of year just to get some extra calories. But eating healthy does wonders for warding off sickness. The better your body and immune system are, the easier it will be for you to fight off any viruses and infections you may pick up during the winter to help you stay healthy and fight fit. Make sure to get plenty of vitamin C in your diet (strawberries, citrus fruits, kiwis, and peppers are excellent sources of vitamin C), as well as plenty of sleep and exercise. Hydration is another crucial aspect of staying healthy during winter, so drink plenty of water.
While these tips aren’t foolproof, and there will always be the risk of picking up the common cold and flu each week, there are small habits you can put in place to reduce your risk of becoming ill and having serious complications from flu viruses. Remember, most antibiotics do not work on viruses meaning you can’t use them to help you overcome the flu. Putting all of these tips in place can help to give you your best chance of limiting exposure and accidentally coming into contact with something that could make you sick this winter.
- Lisa has been blogging since 2013, and loves sharing resources and ideas for living a simple life. To get free printables, bonus words, and more - sign up for the newsletter.