Health Brief: Flu Season 2013

After a couple of relatively mild seasons, this year's flu is making headlines.

Flu season hit about a month early, and illness is now widespread in 47 states. Influenza is not the only bug making people sick though - the cold virus and a nasty stomach bug are also going around. So what can you do to arm yourself against illness? Read our tips for preventing and treating the most common cold and flu symptoms!

Prevention

Keep Hands Clean Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact. Something as simple as sneezing into your hand and then touching your phone, a doorknob or keyboard spreads germs, which can live for hours (in some cases weeks) only to be picked up by the next person who touches the same object. Washing your hands often or at the minimum using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will help knock out germs. Stay Hydrated and Healthy Drinking water is crucial. Dehydration can make you more susceptible to infection and secondary complications. Grab a healthy snack to go with your water. Studies show that eating a daily cup of low-fat yogurt can reduce your susceptibility to colds by 25%. Eating dark green, red and yellow veggies, all considered high in phytochemicals, can give your immune system a supercharged boost. Steer Clear of Smoke According to research, heavy smokers get colds more frequently and that are more severe. Second-hand smoke can be just as bad for your immune system - it dries out your nasal passages and paralyzing cilia (delicate hairs lining the mucous membranes in your nose and lungs whose movement sweeps cold and flu viruses out of nasal passages). One cigarette can paralyze cilia for as long as 30 to 40 minutes. Don't Touch Your Face Cold and flu viruses can enter your body through the eyes, nose, or mouth. Touching the face is the major way adults and children alike catch and pass on colds to those around them - so keep those paws to yourself! Get Injected This year's vaccine is well matched to the strains circulating, and there's still some available. According to government study results released Friday, it is 62 percent effective, which is pretty good for a flu vaccine.

Treatment

Catch some Z's Sleep is your best friend when you're sick. Hit the sack early, and give yourself a minimum of 7 hours of uninterrupted nighttime rest. Drink Fluids You should strive to drink at least 64 ounces of water a day, as soon as you start to feel mild cold-like symptoms. Drinking water is an effective way to flush infection from your body. See the Doctor The symptoms of cold and flu are anything but enjoyable and can go from bad to worse very quickly. To avoid having to take time off work or getting your family sick, don’t torture yourself by letting lingering coughs, chills, sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, or fever continue. Remember you can get diagnosed and prescribed quickly from the comfort of your home or office via a MeMD online consultation. Take Your Meds The Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests antiviral drug options like Tamiflu, which can potentially treat and prevent flu in people over the age of 1. Antiviral drugs work most effectively when taken within a small 48-hour window at the onset of flu symptoms - so seek treatment early. Visit the Drug Store Over-the-counter medicines can shorten or reduce your symptoms and potentially provide some relief. A decongestant can help relieve nasal or sinus congestion, but can also increase heart rate. An antihistamine can provide relief for a runny nose and sneezing, but can potentially make you drowsy.