The flu season started early this year, with more influenza activity through November than any other November since 2009, the year of the H1N1 flu pandemic. As of November 23, flu activity has appeared in all 50 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This common yet dangerous virus is different than a cold, and it usually comes on suddenly. There are many different flu viruses, and they constantly change. Each year, the make-up of the flu vaccine is reviewed and updated as needed to match known and suspected circulating flu viruses.
Adrian Cotton, MD, chief of medical operations at Loma Linda University Health, has served as a flu expert spokesperson both locally and nationally for several years. In addition to getting the vaccine, Cotton says you can take additional steps to stay safe this season.
Wash your hands
People with flu can spread the virus by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. If someone touches their mouth, nose or eyes after touching a surface or an object that has flu virus on it, they can contract the virus. To avoid this, Cotton says washing your hands frequently is a good way to remove the virus from your hands.
Eat foods that boost your immunity
Cotton recommends supplementing immune fighting foods with ample hydration that can flush out harmful toxins. Powerful foods like garlic and onions have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal benefits. Citrus such as grapefruit, oranges or kiwis are also packed with flu-fighting vitamin C. This vitamin may help shorten symptoms, boosting both circulation and immunity. Learning about foods to help ward off the flu can help you plan a healthy diet this season. “Make an effort to reduce your intake of concentrated sugars like soda and candy, because excessive sugar impairs the immune response,” Cotton says.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep may be the best medicine for your body while fighting the flu. “Go to bed earlier than usual and try to sleep in,” Cotton says. “A nap during the day can also give your body additional time to recover.” Rest and sleep may also reduce your risk of serious flu complications, such as pneumonia.
Listen to your body
If you think you’ve caught a cold or flu, slow down. Spending unnecessary energy can deplete valuable resources from the immune system. “If you think you’re coming down with flu, the best thing you can do for friends, co-workers and family is to not expose them unnecessarily to the virus,” Cotton says.
Get help if it gets worse
Most flu symptoms resolve within a week or two, Cotton says. “If your flu symptoms start to get better and then get quickly worse, or don’t get better after two weeks, contact your doctor.”