Avoiding the Flu: Beyond Washing Your Hands

Posted On Thursday, 03 January 2013
Avoiding the Flu: Beyond Washing Your Hands
Avoiding the flu may be more than just washing your hands.

The flu is back and with a vengeance. It's now considered one of the worst flu seasons in recent years. Hitting the U.S. unusually early and hard this year, the flu has officially arrived and it won't be departing any time soon. Many local hospitals are closing their doors to flu and respiratory patients, and sending them on to other facilities.

Sometimes, I feel that we underestimate the crippling powers of the flu.

We really need to have a healthy appreciation for it, and take every precaution to avoid it. New research tells us it's never too soon to be prepared, and certainly not too late to get vaccinated against one of the most insidious and aggressive strains of flu in recent memory.

If you're young and healthy, the flu may make you feel crappy for a week or two, as it did for me over the holidays. You'll miss some work, and possibly spread the infection around your house and social circle, if not your colleagues.

But, if you're elderly, have medical problems, are pregnant, or are a young child... the flu can really be devastating.

More than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza each year, according to the the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. And depending on the year, between 3,000 and 49,000 people will die from the flu each season.

First, how do you know if you have the flu or just a bad cold? I was unsure when I started with the symptoms, but when it seemed different than my usual colds...when I got a small headache...when I realized I actually had a fever...I knew it was the flu.

Flu symptoms differ from a cold in that they also include fatigue, cough, sore throat, and body aches. My 12 year old son also had some lovely diarrhea, and many people struggle with profound nausea and vomiting.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated.

But, we often hear about washing our hands...again and again and again...as well as using hand sanitizer.

washing handsCarrying around sanitizer may seem extreme and a bit germaphobic...but when I arrive at a client's house, only to have them tell me..."Well, I woke up feeling sick, but I thought a work-out might help".... and of course, I need the money, so unless they seem really bad, I stay.

But! I use hand-sanitizer, secretly in my pocket, every time I am done taking weights from them...or after stretching them out. It's nothing personal, but a girl's gotta look after her health. And for many of us, working equals getting paid....so this flu thing, it's nothing to trifle with.

As far as sanitizing your house... I hate the smell of most sanitizer products, and I hate spraying them around my house. But some people swear by them, and if you are one...spray away.

Kids, of course, are the travelling germ pods...they carry everything, touch everything, lick everything... and then spread it around like the plague.

So you can try wiping down surfaces with wipes, or soap and water...or even vinegar...although I don't know if it kills the germs. (Does it?)

Aside form washing your hands, getting vaccinated, carrying sanitizer whenever you are in public...the only thing left would seem to be to join our friends in Asia: We can start wearing hygenic masks. (Do they know something we don't?)

But maybe I'll employ some less less drastic measures.
  • I will keep my surfaces wiped down.
  • I will keep sanitizer in my pocket.
  • I will regularly, and thoroughly, wash my hands.
  • I will keep my kids and I hopped up on immune-building supplements.
If you do get the flu:
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with your elbow. (My kids were constantly reminding me of the need to NOT use my hands to cover my coughs.)
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
My best advice to you is this:
  • The most desirable approach to the flu is to not to get it... and not to share it.
  • Get vaccinated.
  • Stay home if you're sick.
  • Wash your hands like it's your job.
Do you have any great suggestions for avoiding, or defeating, the flu? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, below...

...and, of course, Stay Well.

Melanie Cole, MS

Melanie Cole, MS, is the RadioMD Director of Operations. She has a Master of Science in Exercise Physiology/Kinesiology.

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