The holidays are just around the corner and unfortunately, so is the onset of cold and flu season.
“Flu is a virus that affects the respiratory system and is spread through droplets as a person sneezes, coughs or even as they talk,” says Lori Vicsek, M.S., APRN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “The droplets can be inhaled as far as six feet away but often land on innate objects such as a doorknob or telephone.”
As people touch the objects and then touch their hand, face or mouth, they infect themselves with the flu virus. The flu has a two-to-five day incubation period and stays with you one to two weeks. Those infected can be contagious for up to seven days.
The busy holiday season increases the risk for exposure, as people spend more time in crowded malls, airports and parties. Close proximity to infected individuals increases the risk of exposure and carrying the virus with you.
“Frequent travel during the holiday season increases the risk of influenza at epidemic proportions, as an infected person departs from Dallas and upon arrival in Chicago infects the crowded airport,” Vicsek says. “You can only guess where the flu bug will travel from there.”
The holiday season also decreases our body’s ability to fight off the infection by taking advantage of a weakened immune system.
“During the holidays, people are often more stressed, tired and not drinking and eating properly,” Vicsek says. “Those with compromised immune systems, such as the chronically ill, elderly and young children, are at an even greater risk of developing the flu.”
For staying well this holiday and flu season, Vicsek offers the following tips:
- Get a flu vaccine. The No. 1 way to prevent the flu is to be vaccinated against the virus.
- Get plenty of rest. Protect your immune system.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. Use antibacterial cleansers when hand washing is not an option.
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding alcohol. Staying hydrated boosts your immune system, while alcohol can weaken the immune system.
- When traveling in dry environments, moisten the lining of the nose with saline nasal sprays. Dry mucous membranes make it easier for germs to enter the body.
- Avoid touching your face, nose and mouth. If the germs are on your hands, they are easily transmitted to the body through hand to mouth contact.
- Do not share food, drinks or lip balm. Germs are easily spread through direct contact with infected objects.
- If you are sick, stay home.
If you do become sick, seek medical attention, as there are antivirals that can reduce symptoms. Stay hydrated, get plenty of rest, take your vitamins, treat the symptoms, and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
“The flu can cause serious complications of bacterial pneumonia, sinusitis, ear infections and dehydration if not treated effectively,” Vicsek says. “Stopping the flu bug from spreading is the best an easiest way to have a safe and happy holiday season.”