Wash those hands, get your flu shot, and be considerate!

Coughing, sneezing, runny noses…seems everyone around us has those symptoms, and they’re touching us or the things we’re touching, breathing the same air, cooking our meals or otherwise doing their best — however unintentionally — to share their joy. What’s a person to do to protect ourselves and our loved ones?

To start, wash your hands…often. That includes when you come home from anywhere, before you eat in a dining hall or restaurant, after you use a restroom, visit the supermarket, ride a bus or train, or touch an ATM. Hand washing is the simplest, most effective means of preventing the spread of germs. And when it isn’t easy to wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer. Also, don’t share toothbrushes, razors or other personal grooming products, and avoid sharing food, drinks or eating off of one another’s plates. It may be tempting, but it’s only tempting fate!

Next, learn to sneeze into your sleeve or a tissue so you don’t infect innocent passersby or fellow employees. Airborne pathogens spread highly contagious viral or bacterial infections, and incubation time — or the days it takes for germs to turn into something truly icky in your system — allows you to spread those germs to many other people before you even realize you’re infectious. Finally, when you know you’re sick, stay home!

What you need to know about the flu

Influenza — the flu — is not pretty. It’s far worse than a cold, includes body aches and fever, hangs around longer than a typical virus, is contagious, and takes you out of your game for a week or two.

Aside from the short-term misery and lost workdays, flu can have more serious implications. Most people who get the seasonal flu recover just fine. But the seasonal flu also hospitalizes 200,000 people in the United States alone each year. It kills between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually, depending on the variety of flu and length of the season. That’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer each year, and more than twice the number of people killed by AIDS. And it’s particularly dangerous to children, seniors and adults with other chronic illnesses or autoimmune disorders.

Beyond hand washing, the best prevention is to get a flu shot. Contrary to urban legends, flu vaccines are very safe and can’t infect you with the flu. Injected flu vaccines only contain dead virus, and a dead virus can’t infect you. There is one type of live virus flu vaccine, the nasal vaccine, FluMist. But in this case, the virus is specially engineered to remove the parts of the virus that make people sick. The standard flu vaccine can be dangerous if you’re allergic to eggs, so you should always talk with your doctor before taking the vaccine.

Additionally, antibiotics won’t help you fight the flu, which is not caused by bacteria, but by a virus. Taking antibiotics unnecessarily weakens your body’s ability to fight bacterial illnesses, since many bacteria become resistant to antibiotics due to overuse and bad prescribing practices.

However, there are instances of flu complications that involve bacterial infection. The flu virus can weaken your body and allow bacterial invaders to infect you. Secondary bacterial infections due to the flu include bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and most often, pneumonia. The flu doesn’t peak until February or March, and it hits all across the country, so if you haven’t had your flu shot there’s still plenty of time to protect yourself and your family.

So, dress warmly when it’s cold, eat healthy foods, avoid going places when you’re not feeling well, and wash your hands regularly. Winter can be a blast if you’re not spending it hacking and sneezing!

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!