With the holidays on the way, the last thing you probably want to happen is for you or one of your loved ones to catch a cold or the flu. The good news is there’s a few things you can do to minimize your chances of getting sick.
Will the flu season be bad this year?
Possibly. Australia has its flu season before the United States, and it’s usually a good measurement of the severity of our flu season. Bad news. The Australia flu season was its worse ever. It broke the record. Also, it hit Australia about one to two months earlier than usual. Since the U.S. peak time is between December and February (but starting even earlier and lasting as long as May), the time to prepare is right now.
1. Get a flu shot. The flu is a potentially lethal disease, killing thousands of people in the U.S. each year — last year, almost 80,000. Vaccines do not eliminate risk but they reduce it. A flu shot reduces your chances of having to see a doctor or go to a hospital by 30% to 60%. “Herd immunity” also helps protect vulnerable people around you. The flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective.
2. Get a pneumonia shot. Talk to your doctor if the pneumonia shot is right for you, especially if you are over 65, smoke cigarettes or have a medical condition.
3. Take Vitamin C, if you don’t already, or add vitamin-C rich foods to your diet.
4. Make lifestyle changes that are shown to increase immunity to illness. These include daily physical activity, regular and healthy meals, sufficient sleep and rest, reducing stress, and drinking water throughout the day. Basically, ramp up your self care! Social interaction, laughter, meditation and acts of gratitude are also proven immunity boosters.
5. Use a humidifier in dry, heated rooms. I prefer the warm mist kind, but I’ve heard the cool mist ones also work. Forced air heat dries out your nasal passages and throat while you sleep, which makes those areas more susceptible to illnesses such as sinus infections and croup in babies. Another trick I do when I get sick is to boil a large pot of water and put thyme in it, then let it simmer. Lemon is another nice addition. While it is simmering, lean over (not close to the pot) and inhale the steam to soothe and open nasal passages.
6. Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Unfortunately, hand sanitizer does not kill all germs (especially the ones that cause “stomach” bugs) that can be washed away with hand washing. Hand sanitizer is a good add-on or a back-up if no soap and water are available.
7. Assemble your cold and flu survival kit. If you became sick tomorrow and were really ill for almost two weeks, would you have everything you needed? Here’s a list.
- Germ-busters and hygiene: Extra toilet tissue, Kleenex, paper towels, laundry detergent, hand soap, dishwashing soap, bleach and Clorox or Lysol disinfecting wipes. Paper plates and cups.
- Comfort food and hydrating beverages: Canned chicken soup, saltines, apple sauce, spring water, ginger ale, Gatorade, tea. I like Progresso Chicken Noodle Soup (throw a little dried thyme in it), Bigelow “I Love Lemon” herbal tea with Vitamin C, and Gunter’s local honey (in the bear container, of course). Local honey is an immunity-booster. Garlic and ginger are also good. Avoiding processed food and fried food will help you get better.
- OTC medications: Mucinex, Theraflu, Imodium and Tylenol (or their generic equivalents).
- Symptom relief: Petroleum jelly (for chapped nose and lips), saline nasal spray, cough drops. You will want salt for gargling with warm water to soothe your throat. Epsom salts in a warm bath may help you feel better by detoxing, increasing immunity and soothing body aches. Use 2 or 3 large handfuls or about 2 cups and soak for 20 minutes.
- A fever thermometer. You are contagious before you get the worst symptoms. With flu, you are contagious 24 hours before you get sick. But fever is an early indicator. If you or your child run a fever, you should not go to work or school until 24 hours has passed.
- Extra, new toothbrush. You should toss your old toothbrush in the trash after you get sick.
- A large, soft, snuggly throw blanket – because you’ll need a lot of rest and comfort! I found a wonderful one at Ross for $10. There are also nice ones at Walmart, starting at $6.
8. Clean surfaces where bacteria and viruses hang out. Cold and flu viruses can live on hard surfaces from 24 hours to 7 days, depending on the strain. Isn’t that shocking? Do you work in an office or school? Clean your desk, phone and keyboard often – daily or weekly, at least. Especially germ-laden surfaces include
- Countertops, desks and tables
- Door knobs
- Switch plates
- Remote controls
- Keyboards, mouse and laptops
- Cell phones and regular phones
Tables, countertops and desks — Spray and wipe with cleaner and a microfiber cloth or paper towel, then rinse with clean water and another cloth or paper towel. You can use an all-purpose cleaner or make your own cleaner by mixing one teaspoon of dish washing liquid in a spray bottle filled with water.
Other items, like switch plates – spray the cloth and wipe the item, instead of spraying directly.
Electronics, like monitors, keyboards, remote controls and cellphones – Clean with a 50/50 water and rubbing alcohol solution mixed in a spray bottle and a microfiber cloth designed for electronics cleaning. Spray the cloth with the solution and wipe. You can also use Lysol wipes on electronics. Monitors and screens may need special treatment, however. Check directions for your item.
Disinfectant – If you need to disinfect a surface (preferably after cleaning it with cleaner and rinsing with water beforehand), use disinfecting wipes or mix 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach with water in a spray bottle, and spray until wet and let air dry.