A Hypochondriac’s Guide of What Not to Do During Flu Season

It's important to learn the best tips for keeping healthy and avoiding the flu.

By Perri O. Blumberg
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    Don't think you're safe because winter is over.

    This year's flu season began in November (earlier than the country has ever seen in at least a decade) and continued to climb above historic levels throughout the winter. Doctors and government officials say it’s possible the flu season will extend through March.

    Don't miss: Google Flu Trends.

    According to the Center for Disease Control, 42 states have reported widespread influenza activity; take a look at the highly interactive Google Flu Trends, which the government agency also uses, to see if activity is low, moderate, or high in your area.

    Don't touch any "invisible" germs.

    The flu can live on hard surfaces for up to two hours. Some you might not think of: the fridge door handle and microwave buttons in the breakroom at work; restaurant menus and condiments; and of course, public restroom sink and door handles. However, as long as you’ve cleansed your hands properly, you're clean. A study published by the National Institute of Heath that looked at over 3,000 children found that hand sanitizer can significantly reduce the likelihood of contracting the flu.

    Don't get too close to someone with the flu.

    Even though the flu doesn't have legs, it can spread up to about six feet away when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes, or even talks.

    Don't imagine your flu shot is bulletproof.

    Or the opposite: Even though CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden admits that the flu shot is only 62 percent effective in reducing symptoms of the disease, you should make sure you get one. Don't be the minority of Americans who do get it, including, shockingly, only two-thirds of health care workers. If cost is of concern, check with your health insurance; it might be covered under your plan.

    Don't overlook the power of zinc.

    Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can depress the immune system. Try some dark chocolate or a handful of peanuts for a healthy dose of this essential mineral.

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    Don't ignore Nana: Chicken soup has been proven to help.

    Grandma’s favorite remedy actually contains cysteine, which is a compound that helps thin mucus and relieve congestion.

    Don't dry out your home.

    According to a 2013 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, higher humidity lowers transmission (The flu fares better in dry environments), so investing in a humidifier can make a big difference. Or, just try a few houseplants to improve the air quality in your home naturally.

    Don't neglect your parents: They need extra protection.

    Even though it's the best defense against the flu, older immune systems don't get as strong of a boost from flu shots as younger people do. Your parents and grandparents should take added precautionary measures against getting sick.

    Don't forget to laugh.

    Laughing lowers the levels of stress hormones in the body while increasing a type of white blood cell that fights infection. Laughter really is the best medicine, after all. 

    Sources: Center for Disease Control and PreventionWebMD.com, Deborah Enos, CN for KIND Healthy Snacks, FoxNews.com, Yahoo.com, MayoClinic.com.

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