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5 ways to reduce your chance of catching the flu

Cold and flu season can be a challenging time of the year. The common cold is unpleasant, but flu tends to be significantly worse, and in some cases can be dangerous.

Thankfully, most of us are learning to be more aware of the way that viruses are circulated. As a community, it’s very important that we learn how to minimise the spread of infections — not only to protect ourselves and our families but also other people who are particularly vulnerable to complications.

While a lot of the advice that is shared is common sense, we also see misinformation spread through things like social media. This can be confusing, as some advice may be conflicting, or you may feel unsure about where your efforts are best directed.

To clear things up, here are some steps that you can take during cold and flu season to reduce your chances of catching the flu:

Get the annual flu vaccination

The most proactive and effective way to prevent catching the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination.

Every year, a new influenza vaccine is developed. This is because the viruses that are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics change from year to year, so the vaccine is created to target the specific viruses that are expected for that year. It’s important to remember that last years influenza vaccine will not protect you from the flu this year.

If you’ve heard a myth about the flu vaccine — for example, that it can give you the flu, that it doesn’t work, or that pregnant women shouldn’t get vaccinated — you can rest assured that these are false. For most people, the flu vaccine is safe and effective. If you’re over the age of 65, speak to your pharmacist about which vaccine is appropriate for you.

One of the best things about the flu vaccine is that it’s quick and easy to get. Simply visit your local Capital Chemist — there’s no booking required, and often there’s no waiting time at all.

Keep your hands clean

If you’ve watched the news or been on social media over the past few months, you’re likely aware of just how important it is to properly wash your hands.

Washing your hands is one of the most powerful and effective ways that you can protect yourself from catching an infectious disease like the flu. Washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds kills bacteria and viruses and removes them from the hands, making it less likely that you’ll contract the virus yourself, or pass it along to other people.

Soap works particularly well because it helps to break down the protective coating that encases viruses and then damages the cells, leaving them to be washed away by the water.

If you’re on the road or can’t access a bathroom, hand sanitizer is also effective. It’s especially important to clean your hands before eating, after using the toilet, after using public transport, and before and after preparing food.

Avoid crowds

The reason that social distancing is one of the key strategies for combatting the COVID-19 pandemic is that avoiding large crowds of people is a good way to protect yourself from catching a virus. When you maintain distance from other people, you make it less likely that you will become infected by the moisture that’s expelled when a sick person coughs, sneezes, talks, or even breathes.

While no one wishes to physically distance themselves from people for the rest of their life, it may be worth avoiding large crowds during cold and flu season. Luckily, this period of the year tends to coincide with colder weather — so it’s the perfect time to indulge your desire to stay warm and cozy at home.

Don’t touch your face

Remember when we told you to wash your hands? You don’t catch a virus by simply having it on your hands — in order for you to catch the infection, it needs to actually enter your body. This typically happens either when we breathe in infected moisture droplets, or when we touch our face.

It sounds simple, but not touching your face is actually quite a challenging thing to do. One study observed 10 subjects performing office-type work over the course of three hours. They found that the average number of times someone touched their face was almost 16 times per hour.

To break the habit of touching your face, it’s important to be mindful of what you’re doing with your hands. Most people aren’t intentionally touching their faces. It’s more likely to be a habit that you do when you’re bored, tired, or simply thinking. Try to be more aware of it, and set yourself reminders on your phone or using a sticky note on your desk to help you break the habit.

Prioritize your sleep

If you’ve ever stayed up all night studying or looking after a baby, you’ll be very aware of the effects of sleep deprivation. Not getting enough sleep can negatively impact your ability to think clearly and make good decisions, your body weight, mood, energy levels and even your immune health.

One study tracked the sleep habits of 153 healthy men and women over two weeks, and then gave them nasal drops containing a rhinovirus and monitored the development of a clinical cold after exposure. They examined the duration of their sleep, as well as their sleep efficiency, or the percentage of time that they in bed and actually asleep. They found that poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration prior to exposure were associated with lower resistance to illness.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Sleep is the time when our body rests and recovers, and when you don’t get enough rest, your overall health is affected, which has an impact on your ability to fight off and recover from infection.

For more information and to get your flu vaccination, speak to your local Capital Chemist pharmacist.

You may also be interested in the following:

Flu vaccinations for the 2020 season
4 Reasons to get the flu vaccination this year

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