Being Well

8 Tips to Stay Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Are you gearing up for winter? Try these simple tips for preparing for cold and flu season.

Along with the cooler weather and changing leaves, fall and winter ushers in another season too — cold and flu season. While being sick can feel inevitable, especially if you work in an office or have young kids, preparing for cold and flu season isn’t impossible.

Before you come down with a pounding headache, sore throat or achy muscles, try these simple tips to stay healthy during this sickly time of year.

1. Prep Your Defenses

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the flu vaccine for everyone, especially for young children, pregnant women, people over the age of 65 and those with medical conditions. Despite the varying effectiveness of the vaccine from season to season, it can still keep you from getting sick and potentially needing to go to the hospital to treat symptoms. Ideally, you should aim to get your flu shot before the end of October to optimize your protection.

Doctors also recommend that people with cancer or a history of cancer and their family members and caregivers receive the vaccine annually, too. However, the American Cancer Society doesn’t recommend the nasal spray vaccine for cancer patients.

2. Stock Up

When preparing for cold and flu season, it’s a good idea to stock up on cold and flu medication and pain relievers before you actually get sick, so check your medicine cabinet. Don’t forget to double check the expiration dates too, as cold medicines will become significantly less effective and could even pose some risks after their “best by” dates, according to the FDA.

3. Brush up on Your Hand-Washing Technique

Since germs can spread quickly, the best line of defense is to halt the spread of cold and flu viruses. While it seems simple, researchers at the CDC and the World Health Organization found that good hand-washing techniques can help stop the transmission of respiratory illnesses. Lather up your hands with soap for 43 seconds before rinsing.

Be sure to wash your hands after you use the bathroom or blow your nose, before eating and after you’ve been outside. Plus, remember to cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow instead of covering your mouth with your hand. This can also help prevent viruses from spreading.

4. Hand Sanitizer Works, Too

If you can’t get to a bathroom to wash your hands with soap, use a squirt or two of hand sanitizer. Just make sure that it’s at least 60 percent alcohol for maximum effectiveness.

5. Take a Sick Day

If you’re feeling under the weather, take a sick day. While you may not want to get behind on your to do list, staying home is the best thing for you and your coworkers. You’ll get the extra rest your body needs to recover. At the same time, you won’t spread germs to your coworkers. Researchers from the University of Arizona found that when someone in the office is sick, the virus travels to the most commonly touched surfaces, like the coffee maker and doorknobs, by lunchtime.

6. Clean Your Desk

If you work in an office, regularly wipe down your desk and equipment with disinfectant, especially if you or a coworker is sick. Add a reminder to your calendar so you don’t forget.

7. Rest up

Whether you’re currently sick or just preventing the cold or flu, make sure you get plenty of shut-eye. The extra rest will not only give your body time to recover when you aren’t feeling 100 percent, but it will also keep your immune system humming.

8. Exercise

Sure, regular exercise is good for your heart, but it’s also good for your immune system too. When you get your blood flowing, you bolster your immune system, priming it to better fight off infections.

Preparing for cold and flu system doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult. Focus on simple ways to avoid and contain germs at home and in the workplace, and you’ll stave off these viruses.

A great doctor is one who is invested in your health and specializes in your specific condition. Find one at UVA today.

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Christine Yu