While there are plenty of things to love about the fall and winter seasons, the flu is not one of them. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “while seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are detected year-round in the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter.”
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get a flu shot each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
The American Red Cross strongly urges you to consult your health care provider about getting a yearly flu shot. You should get a flu vaccine before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body. Flu vaccine is available now in many locations such as your doctor’s office, pharmacies, grocery stores and health departments. Your vaccine will help protect you throughout the 2018-2019 flu season.
What else can you do to prevent the flu?
Fortunately, there are a few other things you can do to stay healthy this year. Always practice good health habits to maintain your body’s resistance to infection:
- Eat a balanced diet.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Exercise daily.
- Manage stress.
- Get enough rest and sleep.
Keeping hands clean is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others. According to kidshealth.org, good hand washing is the first line of defense for everything from the common cold to more serious infections, such as meningitis, bronchiolitis, and hepatitis.
Why is it so important to wash your hands frequently?
Washing hands prevents illness and the spread of infections to others. According to the CDC, hand-washing with soap and water removes germs from hands. This helps prevent infections because:
- People frequently touch their eyes, nose, and mouth without even realizing it. Germs can get into the body through the eyes, nose and mouth and make us sick.
- Germs from unwashed hands can get into foods and drinks while people prepare or consume them. Germs can multiply in some types of foods or drinks, under certain conditions, and make people sick.
- Germs from unwashed hands can be transferred to other objects, like handrails, table tops, or toys, and then transferred to another person’s hands.
- Removing germs through handwashing therefore helps prevent diarrhea and respiratory infections and may even help prevent skin and eye infections.
What is the best way to wash your hands?
New York Presbyterian Hospital offers the following four easy steps:
- Get hands wet and soapy. Get your hands wet in clean water. Put soap on your hands and make suds.
- Rub, rub, rub your soapy hands together long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head twice. Clean your palms, the back of your hands, and between your fingers. Don’t forget to clean under your nails. Nails can trap dirt and germs.
- Rinse. Hold your hands under clean, running water. Rub them to rinse them fully.
- Shake and dry. Shake your hands a few times, then dry them with a clean towel or hand dryer. Done!
If soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used to clean your hands. Remember, hand sanitizers are not as effective when hands are visibly dirty or greasy.
What else can you do to help stop the spread of germs?
- Avoid or minimize contact with sick people (a minimum three feet distancing is recommended).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover your mouth and nose with tissues when you cough and sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the crook of your elbow.
- Stay away from others as much as possible when you are sick.
- Adopt business/school practices that encourage employees/students to stay home when they have flu symptoms.
Learning how to wash your hands properly and frequently offers great rewards in terms of preventing illness. The time you spend at the sink could save you a trip to the doctor’s office. For more information on how to wash your hands properly and thoroughly — and how to make handwashing fun for kids — check out The Scrub Club.
More information about how to help keep you and your loved ones protected from the flu is available at redcross.org and in the free Red Cross First Aid App. See all the Red Cross apps at redcross.org/mobileapps.