Tips for staying healthy in cold and flu season

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As temperatures dip in fall and winter, the risk of catching a cold or getting the flu increases. That’s why it’s important to practise a healthy lifestyle year-round and particularly during cold and flu season, which can last from November to April. Keeping your immune system healthy is a powerful defence to prevent and fight off sickness. Following these simple tips can help:

    • Get plenty of sleep.
    • Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and fruits. Probiotics found in such foods as yogurt, aged cheeses, sauerkraut and miso have also been found to boost the immune system.
    • Drink lots of fluids.
    • Exercise regularly.
    • Manage your stress.

What else can I do to protect against cold and flu?

Both colds and flu (influenza) are caused by contagious viruses but unlike the common cold, the flu can lead to serious health problems like pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. Many of the ways to protect yourself are the same, but in the case of the flu, health experts say getting vaccinated is the single most important thing you can do.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccination unless you have serious allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine, except eggs; have experienced a serious allergic reaction from a previous flu shot; or developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks of a previous flu shot.  The flu shot is particularly important for people at risk of developing severe complications from the flu including:

  • people with underlying health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes or cancer
  • everyone 65 years of age and over
  • residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities
  • all children between 6 months and 5 years
  • pregnant women

The flu shot is also recommended for health and other care providers who are in contact with those at risk of complications from the flu. It is possible to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Even if you don’t exhibit symptoms, you can still carry and spread the flu virus to others.  The flu shot is different each year because the virus changes frequently so you need to get it every fall. It takes 2 weeks to take effect. Although it’s best to get your flu shot in October or November, you can still get it into January.

What other tips can help me avoid getting or spreading a cold or the flu?

Wash your hands often

  • Wash your hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 15 seconds to help prevent the spread of viruses, which can live on your hands for up to 3 hours. Sing the ‘Happy Birthday’ song twice while rubbing, to keep track of the time. Make sure to rub your wrists, back of your hand, between the fingers and under your nails.
  • It doesn’t matter if the water is hot or cold. The act of scrubbing will physically remove the germs.
  • Rinse thoroughly and dry with a clean paper towel or air dryer.
  • If you are in a public restroom, shut the faucet off with a paper towel. Try to push the door open with your shoulder or use another paper towel to turn the handle. Gloves work too when opening doors or pushing elevator buttons, etc.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer(gel or wipes) with at least 60% alcohol.

Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze

  • Use a tissue and throw it out rather than putting it in your pocket, on a desk or table.
  • If you don’t have a tissue, cough into your upper sleeve.

Don’t touch your face

  • Viruses spread when infected people cough, sneeze or talk and droplets enter your body through your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Germs can live on hard surfaces for 2 to 8 hours. You can get infected if you touch a doorknob or light switch and then rub your eye or bite your nails.

Stay at home when you’re sick

  • Viruses spread more easily in group settings, such as businesses, schools and nursing homes.

Clean and disinfect surfaces and shared items

  • Viruses live on hard surfaces and items you touch every day like countertops, door handles, computer keyboards and phones for up to 8 hours.
  • Clean and disinfect:
    • kitchen sponges and dishcloths
    • cutting boards
    • desks
    • floors
    • sinks
    • toilets
  • If someone in your home has the flu, take special care when washing their things. Wash dishes and silverware thoroughly by hand or in the dishwasher. Always wash your hands immediately after handling dirty laundry.

Limit contact with people who are ill

If someone in your family gets the flu:

  • Keep them at home.
  • Limit close contact with others as much as you can while they’re contagious (up to a week after they show symptoms).
  • Change sleeping arrangements if possible.
  • Avoid sharing washcloths, towels, dishes, toys and utensils.

How will I know if I have the flu or just a bad cold?

The symptoms of the flu and the common cold can be very similar. A cold generally causes sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and a runny nose. The flu tends to involve the whole body and not just the head. Symptoms include chills, body aches, chest discomfort, joint pain and muscle pain. The flu generally comes on faster and is more severe than a cold.

This chart* can help determine if you have a cold or the flu.

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever Rare Common, high (102°F – 104°F or 39°C – 40°C). Starts suddenly, lasts 3 to 4 days. Not all people with flu get a fever
General aches and pains Sometimes, mild Common, often severe
Muscle aches Sometimes, usually mild Often, can be severe
Feeling tired and weak Sometimes, mild Common, may last 2 to 3 weeks or more
Fatigue (extreme tiredness) Unusual Common, starts early
Sneezing Common Sometimes
Complications Can lead to sinus congestion or earache Can lead to pneumonia and respiratory failure, worsen a current chronic respiratory condition, be life-threatening
Chest discomfort and/or coughing Sometimes, mild to moderate Common, can become severe

What should I do if I get the flu?

 Treatments for a cold and the flu are fairly similar:

  • Stay home and get plenty of rest
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
  • Speak to your doctor or nurse practitioner about over-the-counter medications that can help you feel better (basic pain or fever relievers), but do notgive acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin®) to children or teenagers under the age of 18
  • Treat muscle pain using a hot water bottle or heating pad — apply heat for short periods of time
  • Take a warm bath
  • Gargle with a glass of warm salt water or suck on hard candy or lozenges
  • Use spray or saline drops for a stuffy nose

Call your doctor or nurse practitioner if:

  • You don’t start to feel better after a few days
  • Your symptoms get worse
  • You are in a high-risk group and develop flu symptoms

Stay home and rest up when you’re under the weather with a cold or the flu. But if you must go out in public, practise extra courtesy around others.  Your Bayshore caregiver can help with caring for you, meal preparation and other housekeeping tasks.

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