With the arrival of cold and flu season, you might be looking for ways to keep your family healthy. This time of year, conditions are right for viruses and bacteria to spread. Having the flu is no fun, and taking care of a child with the flu is no fun either. Plus, there is the added inconvenience of having to miss work or school. While the risk of getting sick can’t be completely eliminated, there are steps you can take to lower the chances.
We’ve come up with six tips for flu prevention. If you follow these guidelines, you have a better chance of staying healthy this fall and winter.
1. Get Vaccinated
Number one on any list of tips for flu prevention should be getting vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months old receive a flu vaccine each year. The flu vaccine is updated each year to protect against the flu viruses that are most likely to circulate in that year. Vaccines are available as injections or as a nasal spray (for non-pregnant individuals ages 2 years to 49 years).
Because there are so many different flu viruses, getting the vaccine will not guarantee that you won’t get the flu, but it will greatly decrease your risk. It is still the best thing you can do for flu prevention. Also, there has been evidence that people who have been vaccinated but get sick with a virus that’s not in the vaccine may have less severe symptoms and recover more quickly.
Almost everyone over 6 months of age can be vaccinated. There are rare exceptions for individuals with specific health issues.
2. Wash Your Hands
It is always important to frequently and properly wash your hands, but during cold and flu season, it becomes even more important. So, one of the most important tips for flu prevention is practicing good hand hygiene. You should wash your hands often, especially:
- Before preparing or eating food
- After using the restroom
- Before touching your eyes or mouth for any reason (like flossing or putting in contacts)
- After sneezing or coughing (also cover your nose and mouth with a tissue)
- After touching shared surfaces in the home, school, or office
- After caring for someone sick
The CDC also has guidelines on handwashing. You should use clean water, warm or cold both work, and soap each time you wash. Lather your hands well and scrub for at least 20 seconds, getting in between fingers and under fingernails. A good way to time yourself is to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Use a clean towel to dry hands or let them air dry.
If you need to use hand sanitizer in a situation where you can’t wash your hands, use a variety that has at least 60% alcohol.
3. Don’t Touch Your Face
Your face is home to several sites vulnerable to germs. Your nose and mouth have mucous membranes that the virus can enter the body through. So even if you are diligently washing your hands, avoid putting your hands on your face, especially in your mouth or nose. You should avoid touching or rubbing your eyes, as well. Remind children of this, especially if you see them touching their faces.
4. Limit Contact with Sick People
If you know someone who is sick, keep your distance until they have recovered and are no longer contagious. People who have the flu should stay home from school or work to prevent the spread of the virus. If you come into contact with someone with the flu, wash your hands thoroughly and sanitize any surfaces they may have touched.
If you are taking care of a sick child or family member, some people opt to use disposable surgical gloves and masks but whether you use these precautions is up to you. Regardless of whether you use them, wash your hands thoroughly after contact.
Also, if someone you live with or care for has the flu, do not share food with them. Ask sick individuals to dispose of their own tissues. If possible, avoid sleeping in the same bed as a sick person. If you must share a bed with a sick person, do not share pillows.
5. Clean and Sanitize Surfaces
During flu season when germs are being spread left and right, it is important to make sure the surfaces in your home and office are clean and sanitized, especially if they are in shared spaces. It is recommended to do a thorough wipe down at least once a day, but you might want to increase it if someone is sick. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on fancy products, just standard cleaner and disinfectant is fine.
Things to make sure you clean include frequently used electronics and chargers (but be sure to be safe and only clean the outside surfaces to prevent damage to the item or yourself), light switches, countertops, and the handles of appliances like the refrigerator.
Soft items like blankets, towels, pillows, plush toys and clothing can host a flu virus for up to 24 hours. So, changing linens and laundering other items is important.
6. Practice Healthy Lifestyle Habits
The healthier you are in general, the healthier your immune system is likely to be. Your immune system plays a key part in keeping you from getting sick and effectively fighting bacteria and viruses when you do get infected.
To keep your immune system in tip-top shape, make sure you and your children get enough sleep. Adults should typically aim for between 7 and 9 hours. Children have different sleep requirements depending on their age and you can find guidelines on the National Sleep Foundation site. Other things that will keep you healthy include eating a balanced diet to get key nutrients, staying active, limiting alcohol consumption, and not smoking.
Also, try not to stress and try to keep children from being stressed as well. This is easier said than done, but people who are stressed are more likely to have a weakened immune system and get sick more easily.
Make an Appointment
At Carithers Pediatric Group, we know how important your child’s health is, whether it’s flu season or not. Our experienced physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners are all here to provide the best care for children, including preventive care, immunizations, and the treatment of acute and chronic illnesses. You can make an appointment by calling our Riverside office at (904) 387-6200 or our Southside office at (904) 997-0023. Existing patients can request a well-visit online through the patient portal.