No one wants to get the flu. Unfortunately, it happens to the best of us. That’s why the first and best step to prevention is preparation. But in order to know how to best protect yourself, it’s good to know a little bit about the flu and its impact.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that since 1976, the flu was the cause—or a significant contributing factor—of more than 3,000 deaths per year.
The 2017-2018 flu season was the worst in over 10 years. The CDC reported that influenza hospitalized over 900,00 people and killed nearly 80,000—the highest in nearly three decades. According to the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network, from October 1, 2017, through April 28, 2018, 30,453 laboratory-confirmed influenza-related hospitalizations were reported. 58% of those hospitalizations were of people 65 years and older.
It’s important to note that the flu virus is NOT a single virus. The CDC says that there are three different types of the flu—influenza A, B, and C. Last season, Influenza A was the most common type; however, influenza B had a surge in early 2018. Whatever the type, it’s critical that you take steps to limit your risks of contracting the virus.
The most preventative step you can take to reduce your risk of getting the flu is by getting an annual flu shot. Depending on your age group, and overall health, your vulnerability to the virus can fluctuate. People over the age of 65, or people that suffer from chronic illness are more prone to contracting the virus.
The effectiveness of the flu shot has been debated since its inception and varies depending on the type of influenza; however, the CDC has estimated the flu vaccine’s effectiveness to be at 40% (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices on June 20, 2018). Essentially, the vaccine reduced a person’s risk of having to visit a doctor or the emergency room for flu-related symptoms by 40%. By no means is it a cure, but it does prevent millions of flu illnesses and thousands of hospitalization visits. It does not protect against the common cold, however.
While the flu shot may be your best bet, by no means is it your only option. To curb the spread of the flu this winter, consider these everyday preventative actions that you can do to keep yourself flu-free.
Wash your hands
It sounds simple and rather elementary, but it’s the easiest thing you can do to rid yourself of potentially harmful germs. Research conducted by the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor found that proper hand hygiene reduced the spread of flu-like symptoms by nearly 75 percent in university residence halls.
The flu is incredibly contagious and can spread like wildfire if someone with the virus neglects to wash their hands. If you work in an office setting or come in contact with a lot of people during your day-to-day, be sure to carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when washing your hands with soap and water isn’t accessible.
Think about everything that your hands come in contact with on a daily basis. Whether you’re at work, at home, or out in public, the risk is everywhere. Doorknobs, faucets, toilet handles, food tray, menus, remote controls, keyboards, pens, phones, and much more. Research has shown that a single doorknob can spread a virus to 40–60 percent of workers and visitors in less than 4 hours.
Avoid contact with people
Whether you’re sick or happen to be around people that are sick, be sure to avoid close contact. Droplets from coughing or sneezing can easily wind up on you or on someone else. If you feel sick, stay home! Don’t subject your coworkers or employees to your illness. The University of Maryland in Baltimore conducted a study and found that people with the flu contaminate the air around them—underscoring the reality of airborne transmission.
When you cough or sneeze, make sure to cover your mouth and nose. However, don’t cover your mouth or wipe your nose with your hands as it will only spread your germs. If worst comes to worst, utilize your upper sleeves.
Toss used tissue immediately
Reusing a tissue is one of the worst things you can do when you’re sick. Do not stuff them in your pockets! As you use a tissue, dispose of it properly and immediately. Keeping a used tissue in your pocket is not only unhygienic, but it also traps in germs and contaminates the inside of your pocket. So even when you wash your hands, if you put them in your pockets and start to touch things, you’re spreading germs that could make others sick.
Be aware of your surroundings. Just because you’re not sick and you keep good hygiene doesn’t mean you’re impervious to sickness. Some of the most frequently trafficked areas in your office are breeding grounds for the flu. Think about the items that are shared, or get used frequently—the coffee maker, the fridge door handle, the printer—almost anything. Places like conference rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, or any waiting areas pose a greater risk.
Utilize disinfectant wipes
During cold and flu season, disinfectant wipes should be your best friend.
Yet, to get the most out of your wipes, consider pairing it with a common household cleaner meant for counters, desks, etc. Using a household cleaner first will prime the surface that you want to disinfect. Give the surface a spray and wipe down with a microfiber cloth. Then it’s time to spray (or wipe) the surface with a disinfectant. Don’t be quick to wipe dry. Many disinfectants need time to work. Check your product’s labeling for specific timeframes. After that, you can wipe down any residue left from the disinfectant.
Clean your cleaning products
One often neglected practice is cleaning the tools with which you use to clean. Wash any rags or cloths that are used for wiping down areas and be sure to wash any brushes or scrubbers for dishes.
Keep in mind that the flu isn’t caused by cold weather. The reason why it’s associated with cold weather is that people tend to stay indoors for longer during the winter, so naturally, confined spaces expose people to more germs. But it’s not just the flu. Illnesses like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and whooping cough, are spread by coughing, sneezing, and touching with unclean hands.
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