As if we don’t have enough to worry about with COVID-19 coming back with a vengeance, flu season is just around the corner. Last year’s flu season was at an all-time low thanks to people taking precautions to prevent COVID-19, such as wearing masks and social distancing. However, this year, experts predict a soar in flu cases due to people returning to the office with reduced immunity to the virus because of the lack of exposure last year.
The influenza virus can be dangerous for all, and seniors are at a higher risk because of their weakened immune systems. The CDC estimates that up to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations and 85% of deaths associated with the flu occur in people age 65 and older.
There’s no way to build 100 percent immunity against the flu, but there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting sick. Here are 10 tips for how you can prevent getting the flu and stay healthy and safe this flu season.
1. Get the Flu Vaccine
The single best way to prevent getting the flu or suffering severe complications from it is to get a flu shot. With hospitals and healthcare clinics nearing or exceeding capacity due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, medical experts are urging people, especially the elderly, to get the vaccine to prevent possible hospitalization.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that people 65 years and older get the influenza vaccine. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to be effective once you have received it, so you should plan accordingly.
For seniors, there is a flu vaccine specifically designed for their age group called the senior flu shot. This specific vaccine is considered a high-dose version that creates a stronger immune response. It works by stimulating the production of antibodies that protect you from the virus. Studies have shown the high-dose senior flu shot to be much more effective at protecting the elderly from the flu when compared to the standard flu vaccine.
Although considered safe, the flu shot may cause some side effects. Senior flu shot side effects include soreness and tenderness at the vaccine site, body aches, headache, fever, and nausea. Side effects should be mild and no major reason for concern.
However, there can be flu shot dangers in the elderly if you have an egg or mercury allergy or an auto-immune disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome. If you have any of the following, you should discuss them with your doctor before getting the vaccine.
2. Practice Good Hygiene
Thanks to COVID-19, we all got into the habit of washing our hands frequently. This habit also helps to prevent the spreading of the flu virus. You should wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds at a time. Be sure to use enough soap and clean the back of your hands and between your fingers.
Along with washing your hands with soap and water, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when out-and-about. Sanitizer helps to kill germs when you don’t have access to soap and water. Germs can live on surfaces for hours and even up to days. So anytime you touch something that someone else may have touched – think menus, phones, door handles, desks, books – you run the risk of transferring germs.
3. Clean and Disinfect Surfaces
We just mentioned how germs can linger on surfaces, so along with washing your hands, it’s also important to wipe down and disinfect surfaces. You should use a household cleaner or disinfecting wipes that contain soap or detergent. Products with hydrogen peroxide and alcohols are also good to use.
Make sure to clean high-touch surfaces at home and in your office, such as light switches, doorknobs, and countertops. You can even use disinfectant sprays such as Lysol or Clorox to sanitize surfaces quickly. Routine cleaning of surfaces can help reduce the spread of the flu.
4. Avoid Close Contact
Social distancing has become the norm over the past year and a half, and it’s a preventive practice that should continue during flu season. The flu can spread quickly in confined spaces. If you are sick, stay away from other people. And if you know someone who is sick, keep your distance.
5. Avoid Touching Your Eyes, Nose, or Mouth
Germs and viruses, including the flu, are often spread when you touch something or someone contaminated and then touch either your eyes, nose, or mouth. This is because the mucous membranes in those places are entryways for germs. People touch their face an estimated 23 times per hour, so it is vital you are mindful of it and wash your hands and disinfect surfaces frequently.
6. Cover Your Mouth and Nose
The flu virus spreads when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and droplets are produced in the air. These droplets can land on other people as well as surfaces. Therefore, you should always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. This helps to prevent others around you from getting sick.
7. Eat a Healthy Diet
Simply put, the healthier you are, the healthier your immune system is. By eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, your body can receive a wide array of antioxidants and nutrients, which are vital for boosting your immune system. In addition, nutrient-rich foods help keep your immune system active, producing a steady supply of immune cells to keep your body safe.
8. Get Adequate Sleep
It’s essential to get not only enough sleep but also quality sleep. Lack of sleep can cause your immune system to weaken, making you more susceptible to getting sick. In addition, sleep deprivation has shown to decrease your immune system’s ability to produce cytokines, proteins necessary to fight off infections and inflammation. Most adults need between seven to eight hours of good, restful sleep each night.
9. Stay Hydrated
Along with eating healthy and getting enough sleep, staying hydrated promotes a strong immune system. Drinking water helps to flush your body of toxins. It also keeps the mucus membranes of your nasal passages moist, which helps to catch viral invaders before they have a chance of getting into your body.
Physical activity is excellent for your overall health. It helps to reduce stress, strengthens your heart, and keeps your bones healthy and strong. Regular exercise can also help to prevent the flu by bolstering your immune system. When you’re active, you have increased blood circulation that allows your body’s immune cells to travel and fight off invading pathogens. Exercise also helps to stimulate your body’s lymphatic system that is responsible for eliminating waste and toxins.
Take Action and Prevent Getting the Flu
The flu virus is dangerous and a topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly. However, by taking preventive steps to protect yourself, you can reduce your risk of getting sick and possibly having severe complications, such as pneumonia.
Get the flu vaccination and be diligent about living a healthy lifestyle to keep your immune system in top shape. Contact a VIPcare clinic near you today to schedule a flu shot or to discuss your healthcare options.