Safeguarding your family against influenza can seem a daunting task, especially during the winter, when cold weather begs people to stay inside—and get into each other’s space. Wicked flu germs love close quarters, but you can become a flu-fighting superhero by following a few simple, proactive suggestions.
When is the best time to start fortifying your home against the influenza virus?
Parents’ beloved back-to-school season typically signals the start of flu season. “Children return to school and the weather gets colder, forcing people to spend more time indoors,” says Kevin Johnson, MD, a family practice physician and director of the Family Medicine Program at Gwinnett Medical Center.
Then, when children rejoice over the winter holiday break and families come together to celebrate, they tend to swap germs as well as gifts. “The highest periods of flu activity occur in the early winter months after the viruses have had an opportunity to take hold in the general population,” Dr. Johnson adds.
So, how can you keep your family healthy this season?
The best way to flex your health muscles against influenza is to be vaccinated. Flu strains change each season, and the CDC must make an educated guess as to what strains will be circulating when. That means that pharmaceutical companies manufacture more than 170 million vaccine doses each year.
There are other ways to amp up your immunity, too, including eating a balanced diet with loads of vegetables, fruits, proteins and complex carbohydrates—the building blocks of proper nutrition. Finally, wash your hands vigorously and frequently. “Wash with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer if soap is not available,” Dr. Johnson says.
Ack! The flu won, and you’re sick. Now what?
Stay home! You won’t win a medal for going to work when you’re under the weather. And if you do have to go out in public, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, handkerchief or your sleeve when you cough or sneeze.
“See a healthcare professional,” Dr. Johnson adds. “There are antiviral drugs that can dramatically lessen the effects of the flu if they’re taken within the first 24 to 48 hours after the onset of the illness.”
Also, think of everything you touch in a day, then attack those items with a germ-killing cleaner. Pregnant women, the elderly, young children and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk for complications from the flu, so steer clear until you’ve regained your healthy superpowers. And remember that you’re contagious for 24 hours after your flu symptoms subside.
Flu season runs through March, and it’s not too late to get a vaccine. Make an appointment or learn more about the Strickland Family Medicine Center at www.stricklandfmc.org or by calling 678-312-0400.