Reducing Your Risk of Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)
Wash Your Hands OftenHand washing is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of getting a cold or the flu. Wash your hands often, especially when you come in contact with someone who is sick. Even if someone in your house has the flu, you can reduce your risk of getting sick by washing your hands. Effective ways to prevent respiratory infections include:
- Washing your hands thoroughly (15-20 seconds) with soap and water
- Avoiding hand-to-hand passage of germs and droplet sprays from sneezing and coughing
- Using alcohol-based hand gels when washing is not possible
Wear a Face MaskIf you have to be in close contact with a sick person, wear a face mask or a disposable respirator. Wearing a face mask and washing your hands can help to reduce your risk of getting the flu.
Do Not Share ItemsDo not share drinks or personal items.
Keep Your Hands Away From Your FaceDo not bite your nails or put your hands near your eyes, mouth, or nose.
Avoid Crowds During Influenza SeasonThis may not be a very practical suggestion for everyone. However, if you are at high risk of catching a cold or influenza or are at risk for developing complications from these infections, try to avoid crowded areas or people who are obviously sick during the flu season.
Get a Flu VaccineEach year, the World Health Organization (WHO) tries to determine which strains of the influenza virus will be most dangerous in the upcoming influenza season. Vaccines are developed for these strains. Flu vaccines are available and recommended for most people aged 6 months and older. There is a vaccine against the avian flu , but it is not available to the general public. Seasonal Flu Vaccine The seasonal flu vaccine has been associated with fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza or pneumonia among the elderly living in a community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone aged 6 months and older should get a yearly flu vaccine. Children 6 months to 8 years of age will need 2 doses of the vaccine to help build immunity to the virus. There are two types of seasonal flu vaccines:
- Flu shot—This is for people aged 6 months and older. The shot is made from an inactivated, killed virus. It is given by injection, usually into the arm.
- Nasal spray flu vaccine—This is approved for healthy people aged 2-49 years who are not pregnant. It is made from live, weakened flu viruses. It is the preferred vaccine for healthy children who are 2 to 8 years of age.
MedicationMost people do not need to take antiviral medicines. But, you may want to talk to your doctor about taking these medicines to lower your risk of getting the flu if you:
- Are exposed to the flu, and
- Are at high risk of having complications
Alternative TreatmentsThere are a number of alternative treatments that have been studied as potential ways to prevent colds and the flu. Some that may have protective benefits include:
- Zinc —Taking a daily zinc supplement may reduce your risk of getting sick.
- Andrographis (also called "Indian echinacea")—This herb may increase your resistance to colds.
- Vitamin C —A daily dose of this vitamin may also help you to stay healthy.
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