By Britanny Risher
You can reduce your risk of contracting influenza with some common-sense health practices.
Experts widely agree that the single best way to protect against the flu is getting the flu vaccine. The vaccine is appropriate for anyone 6 months and older, and it’s important to get the flu shot each year. The injection protects against the three or four flu viruses that research indicates will be most common that year. You can get the flu vaccine at your health care provider’s office or at many pharmacies.
And despite what you may have heard, the vaccine cannot give you the flu. “It is true that the vaccine can lead to flu-like symptoms when the body responds to the proteins in the vaccine. But even then, it’s still protective, and those symptoms are not as severe as the flu,” Dr. Ladapo says.
In addition to the vaccine, practicing good hygiene can prevent flu germs from spreading:
Wash your hands. Use soap and water, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds (or as long as the Happy Birthday song). When soap isn’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Cough or sneeze into a tissue and discard the tissue. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
Avoid crowded areas. The flu spreads more easily in heavily trafficked places such as public transportation, schools, and offices. If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after any fever subsides.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to avoid germs entering your body.
Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects such as keyboards, doorknobs, and telephones that may be contaminated with germs.
Cold vs. flu
Despite similar symptoms, a cold is milder than the flu and comes on more gradually. “If you don’t feel horrible, you probably don’t have flu,” Dr. Ladapo says. Most cold symptoms primarily show up above your neck (like swollen glands and a runny nose), while flu symptoms can impact your body above and below the neck. Ask yourself these questions:
How severe does this feel?
Cold: You feel a bit icky and things get worse slowly. The first signs to watch for include slight aches, a scratchy throat, headaches, and/or low-grade fever.
Flu: The flu hits you hard. You may first feel feverish at first, and quickly become too fatigued to do daily activities. Every inch of your body aches.
Can I get out of bed?
Cold: Yes, you can walk around. While you may not feel like going to work or getting your kids ready for school, you can still go about your day.
Flu: Absolutely not—you’re flat on your back and staying there. Extreme fatigue is going to incapacitate you for at least a few days.
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