Last year an estimated 80,000 people died from the flu and complications from the flu. Flu-related hospitalizations hit a record 900,000, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID).
With the flu projected to peak around the holidays this year, medical professionals recommend getting your flu shot now. People at greater risk of flu-related complications include:
• Pre-schoolers under age five
• Seniors age 65 and older
• Pregnant women
• People with chronic diseases
In fact, seniors are the most likely to die from influenza than any other group.
The most important step in preventing flu infection is getting your flu vaccine each year. Beyond getting vaccinated, what else can you do to keep your family safe?
Here are six ways to help protect your loved ones and keep them happy and healthy this flu season.
1. Stick to healthy habits
Regular exercise and sleep can help bolster your immune system and lower your risk of contracting the flu. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends adults spend about 150 minutes each week doing moderate-intensity physical activity.
Sleeping seven to nine hours each night also is important for healthy immune functioning. If you are not getting enough sleep, you may be at risk for a variety of ailments and illnesses, including the flu.
2. Eat clean, lean and green
Nutrient-dense diets help ward off flu infections. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says eating plenty of fruits, green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, low-fat dairy and healthy fats improves immune functioning. Add the colors of the rainbow to your family’s dinner plates to defend against sickness.
3. Stay hydrated
Drinking plenty of water is essential to cleansing the body. For babies, young children and adults, a steady intake of fluids helps keep the lining of the nose moist. Water also prevents the nose’s mucous membrane from drying out and keeps the flu virus from spreading to the lungs. Eating soup is another great way to soothe an achy throat and get extra fluids.
4. Wash your hands
Influenza can easily spread from your hands into your body. Hand washing is the most effective way to prevent flu after receiving a vaccination. Make sure to wash your hands for 15 to 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday.”
Research also shows the average person touches his or her face an average of 3.6 times an hour. Try to avoid biting your fingernails, rubbing your eyes or itching your nose.
5. Keep your kids safe at school
If you can, purchase your child his or her own set of school supplies. Sharing items like crayons, pencils and rulers can increase the chances of spreading the virus from one student to another.
Instruct kids not to share food or drinks with friends. Teach your children simple ways to avoid flu exposure, such as pouring liquids into another cup or breaking off a piece of food from an area that hasn’t been bitten.
6. Consider additional protection for seniors
Encourage the older adults in your life to consider getting a high-dose flu shot. Fluzone is a special vaccine that contains four times the amount of influenza-fighting antigen versus the normal flu shot. It’s designed to create a stronger immune response and provide extra protection for seniors. People over age 65 can also take anti-virals, powerful medications used to treat the illness.
Positive lifestyle choices can give your immune system a boost and help protect your family from the flu all season long. The trick is to implement these before sickness strikes.