Bad news: medical experts are bracing for one of the worst flu seasons in history. The main flu strain for 2017-18 is known as the H3N2 virus, and it is more deadly than the swine flu. According to the CDC, the flu is now widespread in about 46 states, with some reporting more than a 700 percent increase in cases compared to this time last year.
Each year, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts the flu, tens of thousands are hospitalized, and between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans die from flu-related illness, according to the CDC. And though the flu shot is the best protection against contracting the flu, early reports of the effectiveness of this year’s vaccine aren’t promising. Despite all the bad news, there is a little good news: there are easy, actionable steps you can take every day to protect yourself and your family from getting sick.
1. Wash and dry your hands often
Cleaning your hands frequently is key to defending yourself against flu viruses. Be sure to use warm water and wash for at least 20 seconds. Drying hands is equally as important, because germs cling to your skin more easily when it’s wet.
2. Get enough sleep
Your immune system needs to be well-rested to work effectively. Aim for seven to eight hours each night; sleep gives your cells the opportunity to repair themselves and rebuild their immunity.
Physical activity improves immune function by increasing white-blood cells—your body’s natural defense against viruses. Aim for at least 30 minutes each day of moderate exercise.
4. Keep your hands away from your face
Obviously your hands are most likely to touch an infected surface, but those germs have to find a way to get into your body. Your eyes, nose and mouth are the likely gateways. Don’t bite your nails, rub your eyes, or wipe your nose. It’s harder than you may think—studies show adults touch their faces about 15 times every hour.
5. Keep surfaces clean
One of the easiest ways to contract the flu virus is by touching contaminated objects. Phones, computers and desks are contamination hotspots, so be sure to thoroughly clean them often.