In recent years, the H1N1 influenza virus (swine flu) created the first influenza pandemic in decades. With the peak of the new flu season nearing people are still going to great lengths to keep themselves and their families safe from new strains going around.
Because the strains of the flu virus change every year, there is no set flu season. However, the peak for flu season is normally January or February and can last all the way to May. Because flu season is a moving target the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collects data year round and reports this information every week from October through May.
On average between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population is affected by the flu each year.
Here’s how you can help prevent the flu:
Vaccination – The best way to stay healthy during the flu season is to make sure you get your flu shot at the beginning of the season. The vaccine takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop and provide protection (it is still beneficial to get your vaccination this year). Although the effectiveness of the vaccine depends on how well the strains predicted match to the strains produced, in good years the vaccine is between 70 and 90 percent effective.
Don’t touch your face – Your eyes, mouth and nose serve as pathways for the virus to enter. By keeping your hands away from your face you block one of the most common ways of allowing the virus to enter your body.
Wash your hands – Wash your hands thoroughly (20 to 30 seconds with hot water and soap) regularly. By keeping your hands clean you can avoid passing germs from one area to another, and keep from infecting yourself.
Use hand sanitizer – Sometimes you just can’t get to a sink, especially when out running errands; for these times keep a bottle of hand sanitizer on you. By using a quarter-sized amount of sanitizer and rubbing it all over your hands for 10 to 15 seconds the alcohol in the sanitizer can break down the proteins in the disease and deactivate it.
Keep your distance – When someone sneezes or coughs, they spray virus-packed droplets that can land up to three feet away. Although it is common practice for most, many do not cover their mouths when sneezing, so it is best to keep your distance from anyone you think may be infected.
For more information about the flu, how to prevent, and how to treat, check out flu.gov.