As the leaves turn their vibrant colors this fall, we are all reminded to take pause to appreciate nature’s glory—and to prepare for its ugly side. Unfortunately, although the cold months of winter are filled with fun like the holidays, hot chocolate, and warm days in front of the fire, they're are also the perfect time for many viruses to make their moves.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the timing of the official influenza (flu) season can vary, but it usually begins in October with peak incidence lasting all the way into February, although it sometimes goes through May.
Ever wondered why more instances of the flu seem to occur in the winter?There is a reason. Contracting the flu is more common during the fall and winter months as the seasons change and people tend to spend more time in close proximity indoors. With less fresh air, less sunshine, and a lot more exposure to germs, people in general are more susceptible to the flu.
Studies also show the influenza virus itself is more likely to survive and spread in dry, cold climates as opposed to warm climates. It’s not enough that we're all freezing cold...apparently we all have to be sick too.
Honestly, the flu is no fun for anyone, but it seems like an inevitable part of life in the dreary months of winter.
Here are some ways you can help fight off the flu this year.
1. Just do it.
No one likes shots, and there are a lot of people who claim the flu shot doesn’t even work, so why bother getting poked? I’m a nurse and I confess that even I am afraid of shots. So trust me, I get it. And although it’s true that there are many different strains of the flu, it’s also true that the flu vaccine is your best bet to stay protected and to avoid spreading the flu to people who are at very high risk, like infants, the elderly, and anyone who is immunocompromised.
So just do it. You can get a vaccine from your primary care provider, stop in pretty much any local store with a pharmacy (such as Walmart or CVS), or use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder (just enter your zip code) to find a vaccine provider near you. Don’t forget to schedule one for everyone in your family who is age 6 months or older.
2. Air it out.
Am I saying you need to start finally saying yes to all those essential oil parties and pyramid schemes? No, but using essential oils may actually help ward off the flu. One study found that On Guard—which contains a blend of wild orange peel, clove bud, cinnamon leaf, cinnamon bark, eucalyptus leaf, and rosemary leaf and flower essential oils—actually helps kill the influenza virus.
Influenza does travel in the air and lives on surfaces, so using a diffuser in your home or workplace might help the flu get the message to move on. This could be especially helpful if you have young kids who may not be the best at washing their hands or are spending time at school and daycare and bringing lots of germs home with them.
3. Get sudsy.
It’s simple and effective, so be sure to wash your hands more frequently. Perhaps more importantly, if you have kids, make sure they're sudsing up regularly, too. Trust me on this one—kids are gross. And truth be told, a lot of adults are too. The point is, studies prove that washing your hands with plain soap and water is more effective than using hand sanitizer to kill off viruses. If you’re experiencing dry hands from all your beefed up hand-washing, try sleeping overnight with lotion or Vaseline on gloved hands. You’ll wake up with baby smooth hands, promise.
4. Ask for help.
There are antiviral medications available that can help fight the flu, but the CDC currently recommends that only individuals who are most at risk from the complications of the flu—such as immunocompromised people, children under age 2, adults over age 65, or pregnant women—see their doctors for an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu.
5. Supplement wisely.
With vitamin D, that is. Not only does vitamin D help boost our immune systems, especially in the winter when we aren’t exposed as much to sunshine, but one study found it might be especially effective against influenza. Most adults can take around 600 IU of vitamin D as a supplement, but talk to your doctor about how much you should take.
And lastly, if you feel like you may be coming down with the flu and are experiencing any symptoms such as fatigue, achy joints, fever, and a runny nose, the CDC recommends that you give yourself a sick day. Too much people push through when they are sick. That's a bad idea not only because it makes it harder for your own body to get better, it also spreads the virus around and gets more people sick.
Just say no to pushing through when you’re sick. Instead, stay home and catch up on This Is Us. Don’t forget the tissues (for obvious reasons).