Every year, the threat of contracting the dreaded flu bug looms large. Can you afford to risk getting sick? Thanks to the government, most of us know that getting a flu shot is the best way to avoid getting the flu. But for many people, the threat of any sickness pales in comparison to facing the needle, while others are allergic to the flu shot medium and have no choice but to forgo the yearly vaccination.
Finding yourself in the no-flu-shot camp may not be ideal, but you can still take steps to minimize your risks of getting the flu. As a registered nurse, I have come to learn a few tricks you should know about when it comes to avoiding the flu. Here are a few easy ones to follow:
12 Tips for Avoiding the Flu (without a flu shot)
- Know when flu season occurs. Most people know that the flu generally peaks during January to February of each year, but the actual duration and intensity of each year’s flu season fluctuates. You can monitor the current situation in the U.S. by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. During peak times, avoid spending time in public places whenever possible and avoid visiting the doctor’s office, hospital, nursing home, airport, and shopping centers. Avoid flying, taking elevators, and sharing transportation (like taxi cabs and the bus) during peak times. Avoid any close confined space with others during the flu season.
- Handwashing is the all-purpose disease preventer and is effective in limiting the spread of the flu in most cases. Wash with soap (antibacterial soap isn’t necessary) and warm water for a full 20-30 seconds. Include your fingernails, the backs of your hands, and in between fingers. Keep your nails short, use a nailbrush when washing, and avoid wearing rings if possible. (Artificial nails are a breeding ground for germs, and should be removed if you are concerned about contracting or passing on the flu.) Read about the CDC’s guidelines for washing your hands to make sure you are washing properly to prevent the spread of disease. Teach kids to wash properly and encourage your co-workers to wash as well. Keep hand sanitizers readily available during flu season and offer it to others often.
- Regularly disinfect doorknobs, the telephone, light switches, car keys, the fridge door, faucets, and the toilet to help stop the spread of germs. Often, you can pass on the flu bug before you even know you are infected, so regular cleaning during flu season helps lessen your chances of picking up a bug.
- Avoid public restrooms whenever possible. Don’t put your purse, briefcase, computer case, or backpack on the floor – ever. The floor is contaminated with all kinds of germs. (We cultured the bottom of our shoes worn only in the nursing lab during nursing school and came up with Chlamydia (an STD), dozens of strains of Staphylococcus (commonly found in infected wounds), that year’s flu virus, and a whole host of other disgusting bugs.)
- Take off your shoes at the door. Keep a separate pair of indoor shoes or slippers to be worn around the house to prevent tracking germs from the outside world into your home.
- Open public doors with a paper towel, handkerchief, or your rear end whenever possible – not your bare hands.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before applying makeup, putting in contact lenses, after blowing your nose or sneezing, and before eating.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth at all costs. Don’t chew on pencils, pens, your fingernails, or other non-food items. Clean the outside of canned goods with hot soapy water before opening and wash your hands after touching any food packaging when preparing meals.
- Clean the shopping cart handle with a disinfectant and wash immediately after handling money. Disinfect your hands after using the ATM, the gas pump, after petting animals, and after collecting the daily mail.
- Take care of your body during flu season with plenty of rest, a balanced diet, and lots of water and exercise. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables during the flu season – 50% of each meal should be comprised of fruits and veggies. Take a high-quality, liquid multivitamin everyday. (Yes, it should be a LIQUID, not a pill, for better absorption.)
- De-stress. Stress is possibly the leading contributing factor to any illness. Exercise, take time for R&R, and spend quiet time alone to reduce your stress levels every day. Get counseling and deal with any unresolved issues in your close personal relationships.
- Try a little alcohol. While drinking alcohol isn’t found on any doctor’s advice sheet, hordes of my patients over the years swear by the power of alcohol to fend off sickness. (Think of the old home remedy of making Hot Toddies for colds and fevers.) Vodka and fruit juices (like grapefruit or orange) are favorite home remedies for preventing the flu.
What tips do you have for staying healthy during the bleak winter months? Have you found anything that helps fend off colds and flus effectively?