It’s hard to imagine, amid the colorful trees and balmy days of fall, that winter will soon be upon us. But it won’t be long before we are beset by dark days, frigid temperatures and what the weather folk love to call “wintry mixes.”
Unfortunately, flu viruses flourish in the cooler, dryer air of the coming season. As we move indoors, offices become veritable germ labs and one sick person in a home can bring down everyone, just by sharing the kitchen and bathroom.
The twenty-first century has brought no surefire way of avoiding the flu, but we do know a lot more about reducing the risk of catching it — and giving it to others. As the season prepares to take hold, consider the following tips and guidelines.
- Find a Prick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone aged six months and older. Is it a guarantee? No, especially since vaccine-makers must guess months in advance which flu strains are likely to dominate any given season. Nonetheless, for the vast majority of people, it makes sense to hedge bets by getting the shot. Pregnant women, those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, and anyone over the ancient age of 50 should always get it. Also remember that if you care for someone in any of these groups, you should get vaccinated, too. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer maximum protection, so get it sooner rather than later.
- Keep it Clean. Don’t underestimate the power of clean hands. Proper hand washing is proven to help avoid getting and spreading the flu. If you’re using soap and water do it right: soap up your hands with a little water and a lot of soap, rub the soap all over your hands for at least 20 seconds, rinse thoroughly, and then dry with a disposable towel (and use it to turn off the faucet). If you must use an alcohol-based sanitizer: rub thoroughly over your hands until the gel dries.
- Sit on Your Hands. Touching an infected surface and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth is an ideal way to give yourself the flu. Keep your hands away from your face and be sure to wash them thoroughly and regularly throughout the day. Likewise, if you sneeze or cough, do it into a tissue and throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue, direct germs into your elbow, not your hands.
- Employ a No Fly Zone. The flu virus is spread by respiratory droplets, so avoid close contact with other people during flu season (unless it’s worth the risk). There’s no need to go for the all-out nerdiness of an elbow bump, but do avoid handshakes and hugs if possible, especially if someone is ill. Keep up your immunity with a balanced diet, plenty of sleep and regular exercise.
- Find Your Inner-Germaphobe. Whether at home or work, avoid sharing drinks, cutlery, computers, telephones, mobile devices and anything else regularly handled. If you must share, disinfect the surfaces you touch (before and after you do so). If you really enjoy entertaining the office, also consider routinely disinfecting doorknobs, switches, handles, desks and other surfaces that are touched by all and sundry.
- Go to Ground. If you do get the flu, help yourself fight it by staying home, resting and keeping hydrated. Help others by staying out of circulation while you are symptomatic and for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without medication). The American Red Cross offers the following recommendations for dealing with and containing the flu if you get it:
- Keep to your bedroom and out of shared spaces as much as possible. If you need help, have only one caregiver and be sure they do not share your glasses and towels with the household. Anything you use should be washed in very hot water or tumble dried on high heat. Consider having your caregiver use disposable gloves that can be tossed after visits to your room.
- Keep your own thermometer, medications and stash of tissues separate from the household. Dispose of your tissues and other items in a plastic trash bag that can be tied and tossed. If you need to circulate — either in the house or to the doctor’s office — consider wearing a face mask. If nothing else, everyone will give you a wide berth.
- Minus complications, the flu can be treated with rest, fluids and over-the-counter medicines. A humidifier may make you more comfortable. Remember that children should never be given aspirin or products containing aspirin — especially with the flu.
- Get medical help immediately if you or someone you are caring for experience: fast or troubled breathing, a blue tinge to skin, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, confusion or sudden dizziness, severe or prolonged vomiting, or is unable to drink or eat. In children, warning signs also include difficulty waking, intense irritability, not wanting to interact, fever with rash, and no tears when crying and/or noticeably drier diapers.
- Be wary of a flu that seems to subside but returns with fever and a worse cough as this may be a serious secondary infection.
Finally, many people wonder whether what they have is really the flu or just a bad cold. With the flu you can expect such symptoms as a high fever, severe body aches, extreme tiredness, headaches, sore throat, cough, runny or stuffy nose, and vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common in children). Whatever it is, nobody else wants it. Quarantine yourself with soups, screens and a large dose of self-pity and everyone will thank you for it.
Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!