December 12, 2019
Here’s Everything You Can Possibly Do to Avoid Getting the Flu.
While there’s no way to guarantee complete immunity, these practical tips could be your saving grace until spring.
With the more than 74,560 lab-confirmed flu cases in the U.S., according to data collected by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and perfectly healthy adults dying from flu complications days after their symptoms begin, this flu season seems particularly scary — even though this year isn’t statistically worse than previous ones.
That’s because the dominant flu virus circulating this season — the H3N2 strain — can cause particularly acute symptoms, which can include fever and joint aches, a runny nose, a sore throat, and coughing, according to the World Health Organization. It can be transmitted even to people who have received a vaccination, according to Dr. Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease physician, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University for Health Security.
In the worst cases, the flu can cause pneumonia or a secondary bacterial infection that can be fatal, particularly among those at high risk of flu-related complications — for example, people who are pregnant, have asthma, or suffer from other chronic conditions.
Even in the best case scenarios, it sucks to get the flu. Here are the best ways to avoid contracting it, according to Adalja:
1. GET YOUR FLU SHOT
When you get a flu vaccination, your body releases antibodies that can protect you from the most common virus strains in any given season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“You might still get other strains of the flu despite vaccination, although it’s less likely to be severe, and you’re less likely to develop pneumonia, be put on a ventilator, visit the intensive-care unit, or die from the flu after you’ve been vaccinated,” he says.
Although it’s best to get your shot by the end of October, before flu season peaks between November and March, according to the CDC, it’s not too late to get one now — the virus can continue to spread until May.
2. STAY AT LEAST THREE FEET AWAY FROM ANYONE WHO’S COUGHING OR SNEEZING
The flu virus is a parasite that hangs around in respiratory secretions that travel through the air in small droplets; when projected by a cough or sneeze, they can fly about three feet before gravity takes over. A flu patient who’s actively projecting these droplets by coughing or sneezing can contaminate the air you breathe. There’s no practical way to assess whether someone has a benign nose tickle, a cold, or the flu, so it’s best to keep your distance from anyone with suspicious symptoms.
3. KEEP YOUR HANDS AWAY FROM YOUR FACE — AND FAR FROM YOUR MOUTH AND NOSE
Simply touching a contaminated surface won’t give you the flu, since the virus doesn’t infect the skin — it has to make it to a mucosal membrane in your mouth or nose to cause an infection. But you risk getting sick when you touch an infected surface and transfer the virus to your face.
4. CLEAN COMMUNAL SURFACES AT LEAST ONCE A DAY
The flu virus can remain viable without a host for about 24 hours, according to Dr. Adalja. “In general, all household surfaces are going to be contaminated with the flu virus if you’re living with someone who has the flu,” he says, adding that about 25 percent of people who become infected experience no symptoms but can still be contagious. It’s why you should wipe down commonly-touched surfaces — think phone chargers, fridge handles, and light switches — at least once a day using any standard household cleaner, regardless of whether anyone in your household is sick. Before you drop a paycheck on cleaning supplies, remember that “going above and beyond to clean surfaces still isn’t an iron-clad way to avoid the flu, because there are so many opportunities for the virus to spread directly between humans in a shared environment,” Dr. Adalja says.
5. WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER TOUCHING ANY COMMUNAL SURFACES
Touch a light switch? Communal keyboard? Water cooler? Whether you’re in a public place or in your home, it’s smart to wash your hands after handling any commonly-touched surfaces using soap and water afterward. Lather up for at least 20 seconds, then rinse under water, and air dry or pat dry with a clean towel, as per the CDC’s best practices. In the absence of a sink, a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is your next best bet.
6. GET SUFFICIENT SLEEP
“Having adequate sleep is a good habit for optimal immune system functioning and to prevent respiratory viruses like the flu,” Dr. Adalja says. The average adult should clock between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation.