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The Flu: What You Need to Know

The flu season is upon us, and we all cringe at the potential disruption it can bring to our busy lives. While there is no way to completely guard against the flu, there are things you can do to minimize the risk:

What is influenza (also called the ‘flu’)?

The flu is caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause some or all of the following symptoms:

Fever (although not everyone who has the flu will get a fever)
Sore throat
Runny/stuff nose
Body aches
Vomiting or diarrhea

How does it spread?

Most experts believe that the flu spreads through droplets expelled when people carrying the virus cough, sneeze or talk. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose. You can spread the flu virus to someone else a day before you even know you’re sick and for 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. People with weakened immune systems (such as the elderly and the very young) may be able to infect others for an even longer time.

How do I keep from getting the flu?

Get the flu vaccine. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. There are several options for the 2015-2016 flu season. Seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, although most of the time flu activity peaks in January or later. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for protective antibodies to develop in the body, it’s better to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.

Wash your hands. This simple strategy can really keep stave off sickness, particularly when you’re around someone with the flu. Soap and water are perfectly adequate. If they are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Stay away from people who are sick. This is obvious, but a good reminder. Avoid close contact with people who show signs of sickness and, if you are sick, keep your distance. And, of course, stay home if you’re ill.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. If you don’t have one, then cough and/or sneeze into your elbow. This helps minimize the risk of infecting other people.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, since this is a sure fire way to spread germs that have contaminated your hands.

Keep surfaces in your home and office clean. You’d be amazed how many germs live on phones, keyboards and door knobs.

You stand a much better chance of preventing the flu if you practice good health habits. Eat well, get exercise and plenty of sleep, keep hydrated and manage your stress levels.

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