If you've ever had the flu, you know that it's worth doing absolutely everything in your power to never get it ever again. The flu makes a bad cold look like a case of the sniffles; and what's worse, the flu is more than merely uncomfortable — it can be incredibly dangerous or even deadly, especially for small children (and those over the age of 65). But what can you do to keep your family safe, besides locking everybody in the house until spring? Are there any hacks to avoid getting the flu? Because the struggle, in this case, would be real.
From taking the obvious precautions, from washing your hands frequently to getting the flu shot before you're infected, as well as things you may not have thought of, like being extra cautious where you put your purse (it's riddled with germs), there are plenty of old and new hacks which can prevent a serious flu outbreak in your household. Unfortunately, there are a number of factors making this season's spread a notably dangerous one: A total of 3,927 "laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations" between Oct. 1, 2017 and Dec. 30, 2017 in the U.S. have been reported by the CDC, and thirteen kids have died nationwide thus far. Cases of influenza spiked dramatically during the last week of December, with the outbreak spreading to 46 states; even scarier, 83 percent of reported cases were of the potentially lethal N3N2 strain (which is linked to more hospitalizations and fatalities in young children and seniors).
“Mirroring the national trends outlined by the CDC, we are seeing an increasing number of patients with influenza," says Katherine Noble, M.D., of her CT-based practice Sound Beach Pediatrics. "We strongly encourage influenza vaccination in our practice, so fortunately, most of our patients are immunized. Most of the patients we have seen with influenza this season have mild infection, and we attribute this to the vaccine, which offers immunoprotection. For those with flu-like symptoms, we encourage prompt evaluation. For those who are diagnosed with the flu here in the office, we discuss treatment options with Tamiflu and preventative strategies for family members.”
Thankfully, there are measures you can take to keep your family (including parents, kids, babies and expecting moms) as safe as possible — and while some might seem obvious, there are others you might not have considered.
1. Get a Flu Shot
First, the bad news: This year's flu vaccine is being called "less effective" than most (it's most protective against an H1NI strain, not the N3N2 strain mentioned above), notes the New York Times. But it's still your best bet when it comes to protecting you and your family.
"Influenza vaccines are very safe and they prevent infections and limit disease in many people every year," Scott E. Hensley, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania tells Romper.
"The majority of kids that die from influenza virus infections are unvaccinated," he adds.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months (infants younger than 6 months are too young to be vaccinated; instead, caregivers should get the shot). The flu shot is a must for those most at risk from complications related to the illness, including young children, adults over the age of 65, pregnant women and those with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems.
2. Stay Away from Sick People
Easier said than done, we know. What are you supposed to do if your kid or partner gets sick — and you're the one who's supposed to be taking care of them? It's still okay to cuddle with your little ones, just try to keep out of the direct line of fire when it comes to coughs and sneezes (and stick to kissing them on the forehead or top of the head). After that, it all comes down to hygiene (more on that below). And whatever you do, don't share food or drinks.
3. Wash (and Dry!) Your Hands Often
Another tip that seems like a no-brainer, but it truly can't be emphasized enough: Wash your hands (and your kids' hands) often, and wash them well.
"Hand washing, covering mouths when coughing, and most importantly, flu shots AND keeping your children home when they are sick (to prevent spread to others) are the only real ways to decrease spread of infection," pediatrician Katy Noble, M.D., tells Romper.
Need a refresher course on sudsing up? The CDC-approved steps for hand-washing are as follows: Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), then apply soap. Rub hands together with soap, making sure to lather the backs of hands, between fingers, and under nails. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, then rinse. Here's the stop you might be skipping: DRY your hands, too (hands can pick up germs more easily when they're wet). If no sink is available, an alcohol-based sanitizer is an okay substitution.
4. Don't Touch Your Face
You might be surprised at how often your hands end up somewhere on your face — whether you're rubbing your weary eyes or scratching your nose or simply resting your chin in your palm. Unfortunately, this is a common (and effective) way of spreading the nasty bugs lingering on your fingers to exactly where they need to be to get you good and sick, so try to avoid touching your face whenever possible.
5. Leave Your Shoes at the Door
If your grandma always made everyone take their shoes off before entering her home, she was doing more than keeping her carpets clean: She was preventing the spread of any number of unbelievably gross pathogens that were likely lurking on the bottoms of everyone's footwear. During flu season especially, this is a wise preventative measure to take.
6. Disinfect Frequently Used Items in Your Home
Consider for a moment how many times a day certain things in your household get handled — light switches, doorknobs, faucet handles, TV/video game remotes... so many potentially ick-infested places — and how often they get cleaned. Stock up on disinfectant wipes and sprays and give everything a once-daily germ-killing treatment.
7. Be Careful Where You Put Your Purse
Here's a truly disgusting bit of trivia for you: Did you know that studies have found handbags to be more riddled with germs than the average toilet? The Independent reported these findings and it makes sense: Not only do our purses travel with us everywhere, we have a tendency to set them down in some not-so-clean places. (Plus, how often do you really wash your purse?) So think twice before you set your handbag down on the kitchen counter the next time you walk through the door!
8. Try a Daily Saline Rinse
You might dismiss things like Neti Pots and saline nasal sprays as more folk medicine than anything else, but some experts (like Jeffrey Demain, M.D., director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska) have been quoted (in Health) as saying they're effective in helping to clear secretions and flush out stuff that could end up getting you sick. Worth a shot!
9. Get Plenty of Rest (Hahaha)
Have you stopped laughing yet? No, seriously: Sleep deprivation can suppress your immune system, notes WebMD, so making sure you get an adequate amount of rest could save you some serious misery this flu season. The same goes for your kids, of course (yeah, yeah, now you're laughing again).
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