Top 5 tips for avoiding the flu

A Dal News Top 5

- January 25, 2013

What influenza looks like up close. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo)
What influenza looks like up close. (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention photo)

No matter how hard we try to deny or avoid it, influenza season is inevitable. It strikes every year sometime between October and May, and the 2012/13 season is currently in full swing.

Just because it’s out there, though, doesn’t mean you have to be part of the 5 to 20 per cent of Nova Scotians that will suffer through coughing, sneezing and aches and pains this year. We asked Joanne Langley — professor of pediatrics at Dal, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control Services at the IWK Health Centre, and investigator at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology — for advice on staying healthy this flu season.

1. Get vaccinated. “Every year we have to think about the flu, so getting an annual vaccination is something to incorporate into everybody’s personal health plan,” says Dr. Langley. The vaccine is free of charge in Nova Scotia, and available through your family doctor, or on campus through Dalhousie Health Services.

2. Keep up your personal hygiene. Influenza is a respiratory virus, spread by small droplets that are generated from the nose and mouth. Limit your risk of picking up these germs by washing your hands regularly with warm soap and water – especially after shaking hands, and before touching your face or eating. Carry a small container of hand hygiene gel in your purse or pocket for when you’re on the go.

3. Take care of yourself. For busy students grabbing coffee and quick, cheap meals on the go, this one can be tough, but Dr. Langley stresses the importance of a healthy lifestyle. “Your resistance to infections has to do with your general health, your nutrition and your immunity, and we know that not getting enough sleep, bad nutrition, not being in a good state of mental health and physical health – those things affect the likelihood of illness.”

4. Keep surfaces clean. Anywhere that’s a frequent hand-touch surface — like doorknobs, computer keyboards and elevator buttons — are hot zones for nasty flu germs. Keeping these surfaces clean will help keep yourself and others healthy.

And if you do happen to get sick…

5. Be a good citizen. “If you feel a cough coming on, bend your elbow and cough into your elbow or your sleeve. Find ways to isolate yourself from other people until you’re coughing and sneezing less, or not at all,” says Dr. Langley. “Don’t go to class, don’t go to work… unless you’re in an office where you can stay six feet away from everybody, it’d be better if you didn’t expose everyone else to your illness.”

The best treatment for the flu is lots of fluids, lots of sleep and acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the aches and pains. Remember: even the seasonal flu can be serious, especially for those with underlying health issues.

Says Dr. Langley empathetically: “If you’re really sick or you’re worried about how you feel, go see a doctor."

For updated reports on the status of the influenza season in our province, visit the Government of Nova Scotia's Health and Wellness website.


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