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Preparing for Flu Season

Stay healthy this flu season with these tips and precautions.

With school back in session and temperatures cooling down, it can only mean one thing: It's flu season. While it's possible to get the flu at any time, flu cases rise drastically in the fall and winter. But with some planning and precautions, you can reduce the risk of catching the flu—and be prepared in case it does hit your home. Learn more about this illness, actionable steps to get ready for flu season, and tips for staying healthy year-round.

What is the Flu?

Influenza, or the flu, is a viral respiratory illness affecting the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs. Every year, millions of people get sick with the flu.[1] It can vary in severity, causing mild to moderate symptoms in most, but at times can be fatal.[2] People over 65, newborn babies, and people with some chronic illnesses are at higher risk for flu-related complications.[3] The flu is caused by viruses that spread person to person. When someone with the flu sneezes, coughs, or talks, they can spew particles containing that virus that can reach anyone nearby. The virus can also live on surfaces for 24 to 48 hours.[4] People can contract the virus by touching these particles and then their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Typical Flu Symptoms

Common symptoms of the flu include:[5]

  • Fever or feeling feverish
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Chills

Children may also experience vomiting or diarrhea. If you experience additional symptoms like shortness of breath, dizziness, confusion, or pain in your chest or belly, make sure to contact a medical professional immediately.[6]

Is There a Flu Season?

While flu viruses exist year-round, there are parts of the year where the virus activity begins to increase. Flu season in the United States begins around October and peaks between December and February. Flu activity can persist as late as May.[7] So, starting this fall, it's important to prepare for the winter flu season.

6 Tips to Prepare for Flu Season

Flu season might seem scary or daunting, but it's easy to prepare ahead of time. This fall, follow these tips to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu.

  1. Get a flu shot. The best way to prevent the flu is with the vaccine. The CDC recommends that everyone older than six months receive a flu shot annually.[8] Starting around October, the flu shot is available and adapted to meet the latest variant of the flu virus. Head to your local pharmacy and get your whole family vaccinated at no charge.
  2. Avoid sick people. Since the flu is transmitted from person to person, avoiding sick people is an easy way to limit your exposure to the virus. Make sure to stand at least three feet away from someone coughing or sneezing.[9]
  3. Wash your hands. Washing your hands frequently, with proper technique, will help get risk of any unwanted germs. In general, you should avoid touching your face (nose, mouth, or eyes), as that's how the virus can make its way into your body, but if you need to, it's important to have clean hands. To effectively wash your hands, make sure to scrub in warm water, with soap, for at least 20 seconds.[10] That's the same length of time as the "Happy Birthday" song sung twice through, from beginning to end.
  4. Disinfect your home. Since the flu virus can live on surfaces, disinfecting your home and personal belongings frequently and fully is a critical way to reduce the risk of flu transmission. Start by wiping off surface-level gunk using a soft polishing cloth like the SoClean PowerWipe. For the ultimate peace of mind, use SoClean's O3 Smarthome Cleaning System.The O3 Smarthome Cleaning System uses Activated Oxygen Technology to confidently clean surfaces and personal items without the use of harsh chemicals. The Device Disinfector can be used for personal items like your phone, watch, and headphones, and kills 9% of viruses and bacteria through activated oxygen technology. You can also use plant-based cleaners for a sparkling clean with non-toxic, natural products. Together, you can disinfect surfaces in your home.
  5. Clean your air humidifier. Using an air humidifier in your home has a number of benefits for your health. When it comes to flu season, an air humidifier can even reduce the risk of illness. Viruses have more difficulty traveling and surviving in humid air, so keeping your home humidity levels around 40-60% can reduce viral transmission.[11] But a dirty humidifier can harbor mold or bacteria that no one wants to breathe in. Prepare for flu season by cleaning your air humidifier and changing your filters, so you can breathe easy while staying healthy.
  6. Stock up on supplies. No matter how much you prepare, let's face it: You or your loved one might get the flu. It's pretty common! Use this time to pull together a "flu kit" of everything you'll want when you're sick. Tissues, medicines, extra soap, hand sanitizer, throat-soothing teas—even coloring books to keep little ones entertained when they're not feeling well.

Staying Healthy Year-Round

One of the best ways to protect yourself against the flu is to ensure you maintain a healthy lifestyle year-round. Although a healthy lifestyle won't prevent you from being infected, it can still help reduce the severity of your symptoms and the duration of your illness.[12]

Here are three ways to prioritize your health through your lifestyle:

  • Get adequate sleep. Although most people appreciate the importance of sleep, they may not understand how our sleep patterns impact our overall immune function. Over the past few decades, research has established that getting adequate sleep is one of the most important ways our bodies maintain a robust immune system.[13] Just like our brains process memories when we sleep to commit them to long-term memory, our immune systems can use sleep to create a kind of "memory" for your immune system, helping our bodies respond efficiently to similar illnesses in the future.
  • Engage in regular physical exercise. One of the most reliable ways to help protect yourself against the worst flu symptoms is to exercise regularly. Research has shown a robust relationship between those who engage in regular moderate exercise (a 30-40 min brisk walk every day) and reduced illness risk.[14] The benefits of exercise on your immune system are both acute and cumulative—meaning that you get benefits from a single session of exercise and from exercising on a habitual basis. There are diminishing returns, however, so there's no need to overdo it—heavy physical exertion can actually weaken your immune system.
  • Eat healthy foods. Maintaining a well-rounded diet full of diverse foods and nutrients is another way to stay healthy year-round and keep your body resilient against illnesses like the flu. In particular, eating vegetables and fruits that are high in vitamins A,D,E, and C can help boost your immune system's effectiveness.[15] In addition to these helpful micronutrients, healthy eating patterns are essential to keeping your body weight in a healthy range. Studies have shown that obese patients usually have more severe flu infections and take longer to recover than healthy subjects.[16]

Keep yourself and your loved ones safe and healthy this flu season—and year-round—with these tips. No matter where you start, it's always worth it to invest in your health.

References:

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm

[3] https://medlineplus.gov/flu.html

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6282993/#.

[5] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm

[6] https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/adult-flu-symptoms

[7] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season.htm#

[8] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/flushot.htm 

[9] https://www.slma.cc/preparing-flu-season/

[10] https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-handwashing.html

[11] https://aaqr.org/articles/aaqr-20-06-covid-0302

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5337761/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/

[14] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095254618301005

[15]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7857987/#bib32

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6523028/