10 Ways to Stay Flu-Free

With flu season less than a month away, it isn't too soon to take steps to protect yourself from influenza.

Since the flu can knock you out for a couple of weeks, catching it can be a setback.

Simply watching out for co-workers who have it probably won't be enough, as they can contract the flu and pass it along well before symptoms show up.

"When we get infected with it, it can be up to two weeks before we actually get ill with it," said Dr. Ken Haller, an associate professor of pediatrics at St. Louis University.

And while antiviral medications may be able to reduce the amount of time it takes to recover, the best way to avoid the problems associated with the flu is to take precautions so you don't catch it in the first place.

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Some of these suggestions are common sense, and should be done anyway, while others you may not have thought about.

Flu Vaccine

In years past, flu vaccines were hard enough to come by that government agencies asked only those at high risk to get a flu shot.

But now the flu vaccine is abundant enough that some doctors receive their first shipment of it as early as August, giving some the false impression that you can get a flu shot too early on.

"The vaccine is really important, and it's actually easier than ever because of the nasal, inhaled version of the vaccine," said Haller.

So between the inhaled FluMist and the needle-injected vaccine, you should be able to find a way to protect yourself this flu season.

Wash Your Hands or Use Hand Sanitizer Regularly

If you've been using our health information site on Cold and Flu, you're well aware that washing your hands is one of, if not the best way, to avoid either illness.

Washing your hands with any kind of soap gets rid of germs, as the soap and water washes them off your hands, even if it isn't killing them.

For those without easy access to a sink, Haller recommends using an antibacterial hand gel, which he says is "just as good as hand washing."

"We'll tell people to keep one with you in your pocket or your purse or your car, when you're going from place to place."

Additionally, when sneezing or coughing, covering your nose and mouth with your elbow instead of your hand can help prevent spreading the flu to others -- as can washing your hands after blowing your nose.

Use Antibacterial Wipes to Clean Your Workstation

This one is especially important if you share a work space with a number of other people -- any of whom could be carrying the flu virus.

"Wipe off before and after. That way you don't inherit someone else's germs and you don't leave your own," said Dr. Sandra Fryhofer, a general internist in Atlanta and past president of the American College of Physicians.

Some of the germiest surfaces you come in contact with during the day will be in your office.

So keeping your work area clean may be one of the best ways to avoid picking up something that would keep you away from it.

Use a Humidifier and/or Saline Nasal Spray

"When the air outside gets colder, it gets a lot drier. It dries out the membranes of the nose," said Haller.

This is bad news for the mucous membranes, which rely on moisture to trap invading microbes and protect us from them.

The mucous is sent to the stomach, where the acids it produces destroy the invaders.

Because of that, keeping nasal passages moist is an important step.

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