How to avoid flu season

Forty-seven states have reported widespread flu cases to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS). The Federal agency is warning Americans to up their regular sanitation measures by taking more showers, washing their hands regularly and avoiding excess physical contact. In addition to thebasic flu shot, which is now available at pharmacies throughout the country at relatively low costs, there are several other ways that you can improve your immune health and reduce your risk of contracting the flu this season.

Early arrival
Typically peaking in January or February, the seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness causes by the flu virus. Flu season can occur as early as October or as late as May, but the HSS reports that this season, the flu has arrived about a month sooner than usual.

Each year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts a variation of the flu virus, which spreads through physical as well as indirect contact, and is capable of surviving in the air and on surfaces. More than 200,000 of these cases result in hospitalization each year, with the illness lasting between one and two weeks for most.

How it spreads
You’re not likely to get the same flu strain more than once, although it is possible to get different variations of the flu within the same season. Exposure to a particular strain, on the other hand, can also help to prevent similarversionsin the future.

The flu is a respiratory disease. While it is typically thought of as a stomach or intestinal condition, the HSS writes that such effects are more common in childhood cases, which are also usually more severe. This has led many people to believe that the flu will necessarily result in vomiting or diarrhea. However, the most common symptoms of the seasonal flu are coughing, sore throat, nasal drip and dehydration.

Using a Tissue: 101
If you have the flu or think you may be coming down, the best way to prevent others from joining you is to use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Doing so into your hand is perhaps the easiest way to spread the virus, and using a tissue offers a convenient way to dispose of your germs. If no tissue is available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using your upper sleeve or elbow. After coughing or sneezing, always wash your hands with soap and warm water, scrubbing for approximately 20 seconds before drying.Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also effective at sanitizing your hands after a coughing fit.

The CDC recommends further that you don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, because this could make cross-contamination easier.

If you’re too sick to get out of bed, it’s probably a good sign that you shouldn’t. Some people may show up to work no matter how sick they feel. But this can cause far more trouble than its worth, leading to entire offices running at half-occupancy during a peak flu week. Take care to respect your co-workers as well as yourself.

Get a flu shot
If you haven’t come down with the flu, getting your shot could save you a lot of hassle. According to the CDC, this year’s flu vaccine is well-suited to the most widely circulating strain and is 62 percent effective at preventing the illness. Health officials are urging those who haven’t become infected to get the vaccine immediately. It is recommended for all persons older than 6 months. A flu shot may be particularly important for those who are traveling during the next two months.