By Kristen Castillo

November 17, 2017 5 min read

Flu season is underway, and before long, it might seem as if everyone around you is sniffling and coughing away. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu has resulted in 140,000 to 710,000 hospitalizations annually since 2010, while deaths have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000. While some population segments are more at risk for this silent and contagious disease, be prepared this season, so you won't be struck down with symptoms and take others with you.

A yearly flu vaccine remains the first and most important step to take in protecting against flu viruses. Though there are many viruses, a vaccine protects against the ones research suggests will be the most common. Since the body's immunity declines over time and flu viruses are continuously changing, a new shot each year provides updated protection. Pediatrician Tanya Altmann says, "Just getting a flu vaccine decreases your chance of dying from the flu by 50 percent."

The CDC urges everyone older than six months to get the flu vaccine every year. Though the nasal spray vaccine FluMist is popular among those averse to needles, especially children, a CDC advisory committee recommended that it not be used during the 2017-18 season due to an exceedingly low percentage of effectiveness in recent years. Flu shots reign as the main option this season. But don't worry; they contain an inactive virus or no virus at all, contrary to popular belief, so you won't come down with the sickness.

As with most things in life, timing is important. It's best to get vaccinated at the start of flu season, before it begins to spread in your community. By the end of October is ideal, as it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body. Dr. Chad Masters, a regional medical director for MedExpress Urgent Care, says, "It's also never too late to get your flu shot," as flu activity peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.

Some population segments are particularly vulnerable to serious flu complications, including pregnant and postpartum women, kids under age 5, adults over 65, nursing home residents, people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma and lung disease, and anyone with a weakened immune system. On the other hand, new research survey by CityMD shows that one group of people may be particularly likely to spread the flu virus: millennials. About three-quarters of those surveyed admitted to going out sick, and nearly 40 percent said they had gone to work sick. Dr. David Shih, executive vice president of strategy, health and innovation at CityMD, notes that young people tend to "think they're invincible." This attitude is problematic because while they can bounce back quickly, they may be putting others at risk.

Second to vaccination, good hygiene all throughout flu season is the best way to stave of sickness. Germs often enter the body through the eyes, nose and mouth, and they can survive for hours to days on surfaces, making them easily transmittable from person to person in shared spaces like a home or office. Altmann shares these simple ways to stay healthy:

--Maintain healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep (at least eight hours per night), and eat nutrient-dense foods.

--Make more suds. Wash your hands more frequently, especially before touching your mouth, nose or eyes.

--Keep surfaces clean. Get aggressive with your disinfecting efforts. All commonly touched surfaces -- faucets, doorknobs, light switches, tables, etc. -- at home and at work should be wiped with Clorox disinfecting wipes or a similar disinfecting product.

--Sweat it out. Fresh air and 30 minutes of daily physical activity will help detoxify the body. And don't forget to hydrate.

If all caution is taken and the virus still finds you, take the time to let your body heal. With fast-paced lives and busy schedules, you will most likely feel the urge to get back to your routine. But not allowing yourself proper time could risk a slower recovery and exposing others to sickness.

There are no two ways about it; the flu is a dreadful, inconvenient, sometimes dangerous sickness. Hibernating under the covers with a box of tissues is nobody's idea of holiday cheer. Take this knowledge with you so that your winter season is healthy and filled with fun and enjoyment.

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