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    14 Things You Should Know For Flu Season

    Winter is coming, and so is the flu. Here's your game plan to stay healthy this flu season (or, barring that, how to get well soon).

    Chris Ritter / BuzzFeed

    The flu typically peaks in February, but can start as early as October or pop up as late as May.

    CDC / Via cdc.gov

    This graph from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is called Peak Month of Flu Activity 1982-83 through 2013-14.

    The CDC tracks the spread of the flu across the country every year. Here is what the flu was doing during the week ending November 14, 2014.

    CDC / Via gis.cdc.gov

    As you can see — not a whole lot. Yet.

    Here is what it looked like at the very end of December 2013, for some comparison:

    CDC / Via gis.cdc.gov

    Red indicates the highest level of flu activity.

    The CDC estimates that between 5 and 20% of the population gets sick with the flu every flu season, nearly 200,000 people are hospitalized for it, and thousands (often tens of thousands) die.

    The good news is that there are things you can do to protect yourself before you catch it.

    NBC / Via iamaserver.tumblr.com

    And there are also some tips for what to do if you do fall ill.

    1. Get this year's flu vaccine.

    Beatrice the Biologist / Via beatricebiologist.com

    The CDC recommends that almost everyone older than 6 months should get the flu shot, unless you have allergies to the ingredients. See more details about who should get what type of vaccination here.

    A few words about the vaccine:

    1. It won't be 100% effective at protecting you against the flu, but numerous studies show that the vaccine is associated with a lower rate of hospitalization from the flu in children and in adults. It's better than nothing!

    2. It will NOT make you sick with the flu. I repeat: The flu vaccine will not give you the flu. Read all about that here.

    Actual discussion: Parent "I want #Ebola vaccine for my child" Doc "There isn't one, but we have #flushot" Parent "We don't believe in that"

    Dr. Dave Stukus@AllergyKidsDocFollow

    Actual discussion:

    Parent "I want #Ebola vaccine for my child"

    Doc "There isn't one, but we have #flushot"

    Parent "We don't believe in that"

    11:05 AM - 04 Nov 14ReplyRetweetFavorite

    3. There are different ways to get vaccinated — a shot, and a nasal spray. See the CDC's list of who should and should not get the nasal spray here.

    4. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks before it works. If you get vaccinated in the middle of a flu outbreak, it's possible that you'll contract the flu before your body can develop antibodies to the virus, meaning you could get sick in spite of getting the vaccine.

    Many thanks to Beatrice the Biologist for giving BuzzFeed Life permission to use her flu vaccine comic!

    2. Wash your hands repeatedly throughout the day.

    Gaspirtz / Via gaspirtz.com

    "The two most important things you can do for yourself to avoid the flu is to get an annual influenza vaccine, and the second is to have good hand hygiene," Fran Wallach, M.D., associate professor, Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and hospital epidemiologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital, told BuzzFeed Life. If washing your hands isn't an option, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer with a 60-95% alcohol concentration.

    3. Lather for 20 seconds. Literally count to 20 if you need to.

    4. If you use hand sanitizer, do it correctly.

    5. Quit touching your face.

    New Line Cinema / Via youtube.com

    One way the flu spreads is when you touch an infected surface, and then touch your dirty hands to your eyes, nose, or mouth. "It's been reported that people touch their face anywhere from 15 to 50 times in an hour," Arbogast says.

    Some ways to minimize face-touching: Keep a box of tissues by your desk, and use them whenever you have an itch. If you have long hair, keep it pulled back so that you're not as tempted to mess with it (and, say, push it out of your eyes). And make a pact with a friend that you'll call each other out whenever the other one touches their face.

    6. Eat your fruits and veggies.

    Flickr: Peter Roome / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: roome

    "The main foods that build up your immune system are green cruciferous vegetables, berries, mushrooms, and onions," Joel Fuhrman, M.D., a board-certified family physician and author of Super Immunity (Harper One, 2012), told BuzzFeed Life. Zinc and Vitamin D are also important in protecting your immune system. If you're deficient in either one, then taking supplements can help, Fuhrman says.

    The key here is to make sure that you're eating a nutritious diet before you get sick, because it can take months to build up your immunity, Fuhrman says. That said, even a few weeks of eating well can make a (small) difference... so hit up the produce aisle ASAP.

    Tip for parents: Give your kids frozen berries to munch on, or a smoothie made with berries and kale (and maybe some cocoa for taste). "The polyphenols and flavonoids in berries have effects to increase the defenses against viruses," Fuhrman says.

    7. Try to limit your exposure to sick people.

    8. Stop smoking, and avoid secondhand smoke.

    Flickr: Marcel Rainer / Creative Commons / Via Flickr: itslegitx

    Studies show that smokers are way more likely to contract the flu than nonsmokers, and that being around secondhand smoke also increases your risk. Need help? Visit smokefree.gov for resources and advice on how to kick the habit for good.

    9. Get plenty of sleep.

    Getty Images/iStockphoto Lulamej

    Not getting enough sleep can weaken your immune system, research shows, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick. Aim to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep every night. If you need help, check out these 14 scientific hacks to get a better night's sleep. And sweet dreams!

    10. Get regular moderate exercise.

    Research shows that people who regularly work out with moderate intensity have stronger immune systems than people who are sedentary (as in sitting on their butts all day).

    Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise, according to the CDC and the American College of Sports Medicine:

    -Walking at a brisk pace (from 3 to 4.5 miles per hour)

    -Hiking

    -Biking 5 to 9 miles per hour without many hills

    -Yoga

    -Using the stair-climber at the gym at a light to moderate pace

    -Weight training using free weights (that doesn't include circuit weight training, which is SUPER intense)

    -Walking, running, or climbing with children

    -Washing your car

    And so much more.

    11. Feeling sick? Figure out if you have the flu, or if it's just a cold.

    12. If you've got the flu, stay home from work and away from people.

    13. Know what meds can help you (and realize that most probably can't).

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    EVERYTHING ELSE:

    Other than an antiviral, no other medicine can make the flu end sooner. And both Fuhrman and Wallach say that your standard OTC cold and flu meds won't be super effective at making you feel better, either.

    Your best bet is stay home, get rest, keep hydrated (especially important if you've been sweating a ton from your fever and have been losing fluids), and maybe take Tylenol to help with your aches and pains and reduce your fever a bit if you want, Wallach says.

    The flu can last up to a week (assuming it doesn't cause a secondary illness, like pneumonia). You might want to look into a Netflix subscription to keep you company while you wallow.

    14. Know when you need to seek medical care.

    Signs you should go to the doctor ASAP: If you're having trouble breathing, or if your fever is high and sustained (rather than fluctuating between high and low), according to Fuhrman. And anyone considered high-risk (over 65, under 5, pregnant women, or people with chronic conditions) should be in touch with their doctors if they have any concerns.

    Whew!

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