Winter is here.
Whether you're expecting snow or just colder temperatures, it's best to prepare. Stock up on all the essentials — plush blankets, ingredients for s'mores, hot cocoa mix and candles easily make the list, but there's one more thing to be ready for — the flu.
Flu is a winter disease because you have to be relatively close to a sick person to catch it. “Situations in which people are crowded together are more common in cold or wet weather — and so, perhaps this contributes to spreading the flu at these times," says Hugh D. Niall from Scientific American.
When you stand beside someone with the flu and they cough or sneeze, you're at high risk of catching it. Knowing how and when it spreads, means you can take the proper steps to avoid it.
A typical flu season runs from about October to May each year. “Flu activity often begins to increase in October and November. Most of the time, flu activity peaks between December and February, and it can last as late as May," according to the CDC's FAQ on flu.
In 2019, there were between 37 and 42 million flu cases in the U.S., ranging from minors that required no treatment to hospitalizations and even death. It's a treatable illness, and shouldn't be ignored.
Each year, 5-20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu on average, but it's possible to avoid getting sick by taking a few extra steps during flu season.
People can carry the flu without having symptoms, so during flu season, treat every visitor like they're spreading germs.
After visitors come over, whether they seem healthy or not, do a quick wipe-down of commonly touched items like those in your bathroom and kitchen. Use a cleaning wipe on doorknobs and countertops.
Whenever you touch something many people come in contact with — elevator buttons, door handles, the pole you hold onto on a bus or subway car — you need to wash your hands or take a squirt of alcohol-based hand sanitizer to kill those germs.
Between washes, make sure you're not touching your face. This helps you avoid introducing any germs into your system.
You need to be about three feet away from a sneeze or cough to prevent airborne germs from reaching you. Keep your distance, if possible, and avoid touching contaminated items like used tissues or things handled by someone who is obviously sick.
In this instance, not sharing is caring.
Keep your food and beverages to yourself during the flu season. Don't share silverware or straws or take bites from someone else's food.
Sleeping between seven and nine hours per night helps ensure your immune system is in top form to fight off the flu and other illnesses.
Beyond all these safety measures, the best way to avoid getting the flu is to get a flu shot early enough in the season to give it time to work for you. “It's best to get your shot by the end of October, before flu season peaks between November and March," says Elizabeth Narins from Cosmopolitan.
Luckily, it's easy to find a location near you that has flu shots with urgent care centers and local drug stores providing access. Most places don't even require an appointment.
Flu symptoms settle in early and build over the course of the illness. You'll start feeling better between 5-7 days, but it can take up to two weeks to fully recover. Initial symptoms include:
You'll most likely also have a fever between 100-104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Over the first few days, general symptoms may get better, but local ones like a sore throat or cough can get worse.
While many flu symptoms mimic those of the common cold, it's important to not ignore them during flu season, especially if you're more susceptible to getting the flu and at a greater risk of complications occurring. According to the Mayo Clinic, you're at a higher risk during flu season if:
Doing all you can to prevent the flu doesn't mean you won't catch anything. If you do get sick this flu season, the most important things you can do are rest, hydrate and keep a few over-the-counter medications handy.
Pain relievers, cough suppressants and decongestants are good staples for your medicine cabinet. You don't have to see a doctor unless you have a medical condition that puts you at a higher health risk.
Winter is a hard time to stay healthy for many reasons. Between the cold and the crowds, germs can lurk anywhere. With a few precautionary measures in place, you can reduce your risk of getting sick during flu season.