This year’s cold and flu season comes at a time where we’re already preoccupied with our health, thanks to the global pandemic. So while we’re all wearing our masks, washing our hands and trying to keep our germs to ourselves, we need to also take into account the other bugs that go around this time of year — to try and keep the risks of getting sick with the cold, flu or COVID-19 to a minimum. So grab your masks, your go-to hand sanitizer and your favorite immune boosting strategies and get ready for fall and winter 2020.
The common cold is also easily passed around during the colder months, and now that you’re completely depressed about that, let’s instead talk about what we can do now to help alleviate some of that cold-weather distress. So here’s some ways you can double-down on pandemic-era cold and flu safety:
Get the flu shot
If you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine yet, make an appointment to do so today (or check out local walk-in flu shot clinics, which can often be found at pharmacies). While the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective at preventing influenza, the Centers for Disease Control maintains that it can reduce the risk of catching the flu by 40 to 60 percent.
“The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine,” per the CDC’s flu season prevention guide. “CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. Vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu illness, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.”
Pop some vitamin D
Vitamin D is the vitamin that comes from sun exposure. No, really — it’s naturally found in very few foods, so humans manufacture it from ultraviolet rays. That being said, your vitamin D production naturally declines when it gets cold outside because, well, it’s cold, and you’re usually bundled up when outdoors.
Vitamin D has a ton of uses in the human body, including aiding calcium absorption and boosting your immune system. Also, Dr. Gustavo Ferrer, a pulmonologist and author of Cough Cures, tells SheKnows that vitamin D supplementation can help prevent respiratory tract infections.
Wash your hands all the time
This may seem obvious, but not everybody washes their hands adequately. A quick rinse in water (and nothing else) is definitely not good enough.
“Handwashing is like a do-it-yourself vaccine — it involves simple and effective steps you can take to help stay healthy,” Ferrer explains.
The CDC says that you should always use clean running water (don’t dunk your hands into a sink full of water, in other words), lather with soap and scrub your hands for at least 20 full seconds. Then, rinse well with clean running water. The soap itself doesn’t kill the germs — instead, it lifts the nasties from your skin so they can be rinsed down the drain. Finally, dry your hands with a clean towel.
Restock cleaning supplies
“You should restock your pantry with cleaning supplies,” Dr. Kristin Dean, a physician and associate medical director at Doctor On Demand, tells SheKnows. “Keeping your door handles, countertops and home clean and disinfected is just as important as washing your hands.”
They will also come in handy if someone in your household (or you) comes down with something. You’ll already be stocked up and won’t have to go to the store, and you’ll be glad you thought ahead.
Restock your medicine cabinet
You should also make sure your medicine cabinet is ready in case of illness. “While OTC medicine won’t treat the flu, you should have some staples to help at the first onset of symptoms,” Dean explains. “Tylenol, ibuprofen, cough drops and decongestants are all good items to have on hand.”
Avoid communal snacks
In this pandemic, it might feel obvious (and most workplaces that are opening and schools have already likely put a temporary pause on them) but don’t go sharing snacks or taking part in messy communal or buffet-style eating with people outside your bubble.
Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells SheKnows, to avoid communal snacks (think: donut boxes, open plates of cookies, anything from outside your household). “Avoid these at all costs, as they have been exposed to coughs, sneezes and even possible touching,” she says.
Avoid people (or at least try)
The social distancing that we’ve been trying to keep up (and that many folks went lax with all summer)? Yeah, bring that back if you haven’t already. Influenza and the common cold as well as COVID-19 are spread by other people transmitting their viruses. So, if you’re in a position to stay home and do remote work, remote learning — it definitely is the safest way to go. Otherwise, being strategic and smart about the crowds and environments you’re in to reduce the odds of being around sick people is a must. Additionally, avoid handshakes, wear a mask and encourage everyone else you’re coming in contact with to do the same (but I think we’ve all been doing that!)
Arthur has a few good tips for trying to avoid huge crowds of possibly sick people, especially since viruses spread easily in the air: “When shopping, try to avoid peak busy times when stores are crowded and you are exposed to a higher number of possibly sick shoppers,” she suggests.
And, of course, if you are sick or not feeling well do not risk spreading your germs to someone else!
Winter is fun, right?
During the colder months, you’re typically indoors way more than you’d like and are constantly surrounded by germy people. If you take a few preventative measures like getting a flu vaccine, wearing a mask and practice good hygiene, you may be able to avoid getting sick and do your part to keep your community and your home healthy and happy.
A version of this story was published October 2018.
Before you go, check out our favorite all natural cold remedies for kids: