It’s flu season. But you knew that, because it happens every year. Unfortunately, as you might have heard, this year’s flu season is a particularly nasty one. Flu deaths in the United States have officially reached “epidemic” levels – 20 children across the country have died. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a public health state of emergency, and people rushed out to get vaccinated like it was Black Friday. Even Meryl Streep has the flu, guys. (Get well soon!)
Luckily, it looks as if the epidemic may have peaked, with flu-related doctor visits on the decline. And college students aren’t in a high-risk group for serious flu complications. But still, the flu sucks, and with a new semester starting this is not an ideal time to be in bed with a fever. So how do you avoid it? I’ve put together the best tips I can find. A lot of them are common sense, but a little reminder never hurts.
1. Get a flu shot. Obvious, yes, but it’s the best way to protect yourself. Just remember that a flu vaccine takes about two weeks to kick in, and is never 100% effective. This year’s version has been shown to be about 62% effective though, and those are pretty good odds. Check out the CDC for more information on the vaccine and who should and shouldn’t get it.
2. Wash your hands. Would you believe me if I said you’re probably not doing this correctly? You know the drill – soap and warm water – but most people don’t wash their hands for long enough. This is a trick I learned as a little kid, but it still works: while you’re washing your hands, sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. That’s how you know you’re lathering for long enough.
3. Avoid physical contact with sick people. That hottie you just spotted across the bar? If they sneeze or cough, don’t even think about it.
4. Try to avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. Flu germs are pretty resilient and can remain on surfaces for up to about 48 hours. So, if someone sneezed into their hand, then touched that doorknob… well, you get it.
5. Disinfectant is your friend. This is especially important if you’re sharing a house or dorm with someone who has the flu. Keep surfaces clean and disinfected as best you can.
6. Sleep. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do to boost your immune system. You feel like sleeping when you’re sick, but if you get your sleep in now, you’ll be less likely to get sick later on.
7. Exercise. Regular exercise can help strengthen your immune system, but extreme exercise can actually weaken it. So this is a good week to hit the gym but take it a little easy (or do a home workout to avoid the germs).
8. Eat your fruits and veggies. Think colors and variety. All those vitamins and nutrients are what your body needs to fight off germs.
9. Put down the cigarettes. Inhaling smoke dries out your nasal passages and paralyzes cilia, the tiny hairs that line your nose and lungs and sweep out viruses. Stay away from smoke to let these little guys do their job.
10. Skip the drink. Even moderate alcohol consumption can depress immune response. Sorry, but this might be a good week for a sober movie night in.
Garnet is a student at Columbia University in New York City. She is “that person” who starts dancing at a party when everyone else is standing around, and if there were a Facebook stalking Olympics, she would be a gold medalist. She also loves cheesy 90s music, and almost died of happiness when Vanilla Ice retweeted her. Once. Follow her on Twitter @garnethenderson.