Think we’re just a cold? Ha!
David Goldin for Reader’s Digest
Underestimate us at your peril. Each year on average, we send 200,000 people to the hospital and have a hand in killing at least 23,000 (usually if they also develop complications such as pneumonia). Not to brag, but we are strong enough to render even a totally normal, healthy person gravely ill. These are the symptoms of the flu you shouldn't ignore.
We dread nothing more than the flu vaccine.
It’s the best way to ensure that we can’t wreak havoc. A vaccine provides your immune system with NSA-level intelligence to identify and eradicate us. This season, we’re especially nervous—there’s a new quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four flu strains instead of the usual three. There’s a new vaccine for people who are allergic to eggs and, once again, an extra-strength version for senior citizens. Yikes. Just be sure you're not making these mistakes that could mess up your flu shot.
We’re terrified of products labeled “disinfectant.”
This means they’ve been tested for their ability to kill viruses (like me). Cleaning products labeled sanitizer have to kill only bacteria. Disinfectants can take a few minutes to kick in, so if you spray one on a surface and immediately wipe it off, chances are some of us viruses will survive.
Merely breathing spreads us.
You don’t have to sneeze or cough. A single breath can harbor thousands of us—and we can infect other people a full 24 hours before you exhibit symptoms.
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If you’re obese, we can do a real number on you.
We’re up to three times more likely to kill someone who is obese than of normal weight. If extra pounds are squeezing your lungs, it’s harder to breathe and fight us off. Extra weight may make the flu shot less effective too. Score!
You do us a big favor when you’re “too busy” to take a sick day.
When you drag yourself into the office, you spread us to your coworkers (awesome) and may make it harder for your body to fight us, so you stay sick longer (more awesome). If everyone had access to just one paid sick day for the flu, it could reduce cases by as much as 25 percent! (Shudder!) Don't miss these other ways you're making your cold or flu worse.
A good hair day for you is a good day for us too.
When there’s less moisture in the air, we can waft around a little longer, which gives us a better chance to infect people.
Thanks for skimping on hand washing.
Next to the flu vaccine, good hand hygiene is one of your best defenses against us. We recently heard that about 10 percent of
people don’t wash their hands before leaving the restroom, and more than 20 percent use water but no soap. Either way, it’s all good. If we linger on your hands and then you touch your eyes, nose, or mouth (trust us, you do this a lot), we get easy access. Be sure you have these 12 things in your DIY flu-fighting kit, too.
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Is that Tamiflu you’re taking? Oh, no!
Antiviral drugs are our biggest enemy once we’ve succeeded in infecting you. The drugs effectively castrate us. They
thwart our ability to keep reproducing, which means they can shorten the length of your illness. Lucky for us, though, there’s a brief ideal window in which to use these medications. They are most effective if you take them within the first 48 hours of having flu symptoms. If you wait too long, we can still run rampant. Here are some other natural remedies for the flu that really work.
We love children.
They are our biggest spreaders. Kids’ immature immune systems take more time to fight us, so they shed more of us and for longer periods. Children are also delightfully unhygienic. If we infect one child, we likely gain entry to his immediate family and many of his classmates.