The flu season is basically here already, but that's not the only part of a sad, winterlong tale of potential illnesses. 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. Here are a few tips from experts so you can hopefully avoid catching a nasty winter bug.
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.
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."
Don't eat out of that doughnut box
If you work somewhere with a communal break room or lunchroom, you've probably grabbed a doughnut or something similar from a box a caring coworker has provided. During the flu season, definitely don't do that, Dr. Kristine Arthur, an internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells SheKnows, no matter how tasty it looks. "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)
Influenza and the common cold are spread by other people transmitting their viruses, so if you can stay home 24-7, then you'll be good, right? Well, this isn't likely to happen because people need to go out, get supplies, work and go to school.
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. She also mentions that if you have the option to work at home, do it during the cold and flu season. Additionally, avoid handshakes.
Winter is fun, right?
During the winter 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) and practice good hygiene, you may be able to avoid getting sick at all.
But if you aren't able to avoid it and are feeling rotten, make sure you're stocked up in advance so you don't have to run to the store and expose more people to influenza or whatever germ you can potentially share. The flu is no fun, and colds aren't either, but maybe you can keep those germs at bay and enjoy the cold season as you'd like to.