GTJ Health Series: What the F(lu)? How to Prevent Getting the Flu this Winter

fluThe contents of this article are for informational purposes only.  The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

It’s that time again: The sniffling coworker, the fellow metro rider who will cough all over you, and even the cute little baby who can’t help but be a ready to rub who-know-what in your direction.  It’s flu season and here at GTJ we are ready to give you 5 tips to keep this evil virus away.

Step One: Get Vaccinated

Get vaccinated.  It’s that simple.  Every year the CDC and other organizations work to track the most common flu strains affecting the rest of the world (and especially Asia) the spring/summer before our flu season.  They then create a vaccine that covers these most common strains and deliver it as a vaccine for our use.  This is your best way of preventing the flu.

Does the vaccine cover all forms of the flu?  No, but it does cover most of those that are most likely to affect us in the US.

Does the vaccine prevent the flu in all cases?  No, but it can prevent and will often lessen the effect of the flu.  In general, vaccines provide a 50-75% reduction in risk of getting the flu.

Step Two: Get Sleep, Exercise, and Eat a Well-balanced Diet

Like my previous column described, there are countless advantages to healthy eating, sleeping, and exercising.  Eating, sleeping, and excising will help boost the strength of your immune system and keep you from getting sick.

Step Three: Avoid Sick Contacts

Avoid interacting with people who are sick.  Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  These areas are full of mucous membranes that are routes for the flu to enter your system.  Disinfect surfaces at home and work that may be contaminated with the flu.

Step Four: Wash Your Hands

Wash your hands before and after you eat, use the bathroom.  Soap and water work best, but an alcohol-based hand sanitizer also works. If you shake a lot of hands at work or events, bring a bottle of hand sanitizer to use periodically.

Step Five: Stay Home if You’re Sick

If you are feeling sick, stay home.  Rest, see the doctor, and avoid going back to school/work until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours.  Avoid close contact with others to prevent the spread.  Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze with a tissue.  If you are feeling particularly under the weather, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Next Column:  Alex will share his reflections on his month long medical/research rotation in Tel Aviv!

Alex Berger, a new GTJ contributing columnist, is a native of the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.  He graduated in 2008 from the University of North Carolina and is currently in his last year of a combined MD/MPH program. He is excited to be back in the DC area and to share tips on nutrition, health, and fitness. He can be reached at Alexander_Berger@med.unc.edu.