Easy ways to avoid getting sick this winter

October 17, 2016 | by Laura Setlur, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

It’s that time of year again – the leaves are changing color and the days are getting shorter. The holiday season is fast approaching and, unfortunately, cold and flu season.

Flu season begins in October and can last through May, though the worst of it is from December to February.

There are some habits to help you stay well and prevent the spread of illness. Discuss these with your family and especially children as well as their caregivers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention breaks down basic stay-healthy tips everyone should know:

  • Avoid close contact. Stay away from people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. Be sure to scrub your hands with lather for at least 20 seconds, then rinse under running water.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches a surface or object that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Get enough sleep. A well-rested person will have a stronger immune system.
  • Don’t cover a cough with your hand. Use a tissue or your elbow or sleeve.
  • Get a flu shot. Of course, a flu shot is one of the best preventive measures you can take to stay healthy through the fall and winter.

Anyone older than 6 months should have a flu shot, but especially pregnant women, people age 65 and older, and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. There’s also a high-dose shot for people 65 and over because our immune system weakens as we age.

Healthy people should get flu shots. It improves their chances of avoiding the flu, and if they do get sick (the flu vaccine doesn’t guarantee they won’t), their bodies will be better equipped to fight off the virus.

If you don't get the flu, the people around you won't catch it from you, which is especially important for people who live or interact regularly with little kids or seniors.

You won't get the flu from a flu shot, because the viruses used in the shot are dead or weakened and cannot make you sick. Sometimes people develop mild symptoms such as a low-grade fever, aches or a runny nose, but they don't last long. They’re easy to handle compared to the symptoms a flu virus causes.

Everyone over age 65 and those with chronic medical conditions should also get both pneumonia vaccines. There are two types: pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (Prevnar13) and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (Pneumovax). These vaccines cover different types of bacteria that cause pneumonia, and are given one at a time, at least one year apart.

Be vigilant and you’ll get through this winter with minimal discomfort.

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