- Even though you may think you know everything about avoiding pesky viruses by now, you may be doing a few surprising things to invite the flu into your body.
- Many of the same things that help protect you from COVID-19 will help you remain flu-free through the winter.
Just when you thought you had checked all the boxes in your fight against the COVID-19 virus, flu season has arrived. Flu season generally lasts from October through March each year. Even though you may think you know everything about avoiding pesky viruses by now, you may be doing a few surprising things to invite the flu into your body.
1. Bumping Elbows
Have you seen the politicians bumping elbows instead of shaking hands and kissing babies? Yeah — that can still make you vulnerable to getting a virus like the flu. If you’re getting close enough to someone to touch their elbow with your elbow, then you’re well within the six-foot distance required for a flu germ to hitch a ride onto you. And, of course, handshakes increase your risk even further. There is even belief that COVID may end that practice altogether. It’s best to politely stick to your social distancing and virtual salutations this flu season.
2. Using a Public Restroom to Wash Your Hands
At this point, you’re probably anxious to get back out in the world and go about your daily life. However, even as you venture out and about, be wary of public restrooms. Faucets and paper towel holders in public restrooms are all easy ways to get the flu or another virus. If you can’t avoid washing your hands in the restroom while you are on the go, carry some sanitary wipes to clean areas before touching them. Keeping hand sanitizer readily available is also a good idea.
3. Cracking Open Another Drink
If you’ve developed a habit of downing a couple of drinks at night during the pandemic, you’re not alone. Many Americans have been sitting around watching their social lives whither and filling the void with a few more beverages than usual. However, research shows that heavy alcohol consumption may up your risk of becoming very ill from the flu. So, you may want to curb your spiked seltzer habit in favor of some good old-fashioned water during flu season.
Another casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic may be your sleep cycle. If you’re working from home—and not having to stick to a strict schedule during the week—your nightly show may bleed into one or two more episodes, and suddenly you’re going to bed way later than you intended. However, research shows that even mild sleep loss or sleep disruption can increase your chances of getting the flu, and it can also reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Keep yourself safe by making a habit of powering down at a set time each night.
5. Checking Your Phone in Public
If you’re like many of us, your cell phone is probably like an additional appendage. However, your phone can actually harbor a ton of bacteria and viruses. If you are out and about and touching knobs, railings, shopping carts—and then touching your phone—you may be walking around with a germ-laden piece of metal in your pocket.
To help avoid accidentally picking up the flu while swiping through Insta updates, try to limit your phone check-ins while you’re on the move and sanitize your phone when you get home. You can also help yourself stay protected this year by getting a free flu shot at your local clinic or pharmacy.
Even though vaping, or using e-cigarettes, doesn’t affect your lungs in quite the same way that smoking cigarettes the traditional way can, according to WebMD, vaping can still damage your lung tissue. When you vape, it can lower your resistance to respiratory viruses like the flu. Avoiding smoking of any kind this flu season can help lower your risk of getting sick — if you need help stopping, ask a retail clinic provider to point you in the direction of cessation resources.
7. Stocking Up at the Pharmacy
You might feel like you’re really “adulting” when cold medicines go on sale at the pharmacy and you stock up just in case you may need them later on. But you may want to pause and think about who else might be browsing in this same aisle—people who are actively sick! If you can’t resist the temptation to stock your medicine cabinet in advance, just make sure you aren’t unnecessarily touching things in the cold medicine aisle, and wash your hands afterward. Even better, order these items online to help save time, money, and help lower your risk of catching the flu. And if you have stocked up in the past, make sure to check expiration dates on any medications you have on hand before consuming them.
8. Taking an Rideshare
Even though taking an rideshare exposes you to fewer people than taking a bus, subway, or train, ridesharing can still increase your chances of getting the flu. People who sit in a rideshare can sometimes treat the backseat like it’s their own private space by touching the car handles, seats, cushions, chair pockets, tissue boxes, and other things.
Even though you may be the only rider in the car, you are not actually alone because the virus that causes the flu can linger on these objects. Try to avoid ride shares during flu season if you can. If you have no other option, you can help lower your chances of getting the flu by getting a flu shot at a walk-in retail clinic, or other location.
9. Maxing Out at the Gym
Just when you thought it might be safe to head back to the gym, it's flu season. You may be looking forward to hitting the treadmill or getting back into a weight-lifting routine after many months of being inactive. However, according to the NIH, over-exercising can weaken your immune system and allow the flu to take over. It’s important to get back into an exercise routine, but do it in moderation and sanitize all gym equipment prior to getting in your reps. You may even consider exercising at home or outdoors during flu season, just to be extra safe.
How to Prevent Getting the Flu
By now you’re an expert on how to get sick with the flu, so you may be asking yourself, “should I get a flu shot?" For most people, the answer is yes. A flu shot can help you avoid the misery of getting sick in the first place. The flu is a respiratory virus that is spread by aerosol droplets (through activities like talking, coughing, or sneezing), similar to how the COVID-19 virus is spread, so it’s hard to avoid catching the flu, but taking the following precautions may help prevent flu transmission:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, including the spaces between each finger and your palms before you rinse
- Sanitize your hands and personal items (like your phone) when you are out and about, using a cleaner that contains at least 60 to 95 percent alcohol, ethanol, or isopropanol
- Wear a mask when you are in a crowded place
- Avoid spending time around people who have flu-like symptoms
If you’ve been exposed to the flu, don’t despair. Keep an eye on yourself, stay home, and avoid contact with other people to help avoid spreading the virus. If you start to feel ill, head to your local retail walk-in clinic for testing and medications to help you feel better soon.
Avoiding the Flu, Once and for All
The flu can come on very fast and can be downright miserable. For people who are in high-risk categories (like the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems), the flu can even be life-threatening. Be sure to get the flu shot and, if your symptoms are severe, visit an urgent care or retail clinic to help get back on the right track.
Frequently asked questions
What is the typical duration of the flu season?The flu season typically lasts from October through March each year.
How can bumping elbows increase the risk of getting the flu?Bumping elbows with someone puts you within the six-foot distance required for a flu germ to potentially transfer to you. This is because you're getting close enough to touch their elbow with yours, which is within the range for a flu germ to hitch a ride onto you.
Why should I be cautious about using a public restroom during flu season?Public restrooms can be a hotspot for germs. Faucets and paper towel holders are all easy ways to get the flu or another virus. It's recommended to carry sanitary wipes to clean areas before touching them and to keep hand sanitizer readily available.
How can heavy alcohol consumption affect my risk of getting the flu?Research shows that heavy alcohol consumption may increase your risk of becoming very ill from the flu. It's recommended to limit alcohol intake during flu season.
How does sleep loss or disruption increase the risk of getting the flu?Research shows that even mild sleep loss or disruption can increase your chances of getting the flu. It can also reduce the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.
How can vaping increase my risk of getting the flu?Vaping can damage your lung tissue and lower your resistance to respiratory viruses like the flu.
Why should I be cautious about stocking up at the pharmacy during flu season?The pharmacy, specifically the cold medicine aisle, can be a place where sick people browse, increasing your risk of exposure to the flu. It's recommended to order these items online to lower your risk of catching the flu.
How can taking a rideshare increase my chances of getting the flu?Rideshares can increase your chances of getting the flu because the virus that causes the flu can linger on objects in the car, such as handles, seats, cushions, chair pockets, and tissue boxes. If you can avoid rideshares during flu season, it can help lower your chances of getting the flu.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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- How Sleep Affects Immunity (2020)
- E-Cigs May Be Linked to Respiratory Infections (2015)
- Fomites, hands, and the transmission of respiratory viruses (2020)
- Transmission of Influenza A in a Student Office Based on Realistic Person-to-Person Contact and Surface Touch Behaviour (2018)