Nobody wants to get sick during the cold and flu season, yet every fall and winter, many people find themselves coughing or sneezing, with sore throats, congestion or fever. This year, you may be concerned about getting COVID-19, not just colds or the flu. Fortunately, taking steps to help prevent a cold, may also reduce your risk of all three, because colds, the flu and COVID-19 spread in similar ways.
Adopt these habits to increase your chances of staying healthy:
Keep your distance from others
When someone who’s sick coughs, sneezes or talks, they exhale viral particles that travel a short distance before settling to the ground. If you’re nearby, you may become infected. Staying 6 feet away from others may limit the spread of colds, the flu and COVID-19.
Wash your hands often
Keeping your hands clean may reduce your chances of getting sick from germs that you’ve encountered on shared surfaces, like doorknobs, handles, and elevator buttons. When you touch your eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands, germs may enter your respiratory system, leading to illness. Most people touch their faces several times per hour. Washing your hands frequently for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer lowers your chances of getting sick.
Many shared surfaces are touched by people with viruses on their hands. Wipe down counters, light switches, doorknobs, the TV remote control and other spots that many people touch. Touching these surfaces is much more of a concern out in public, especially handles, doorknobs, etc. which don’t tend to be cleaned by staff at facilities. Be sure to cleanse your hands promptly if you touch these shared objects out in public.
When you can’t clean shared surfaces, find other ways to protect yourself. Use paper towels to touch sink faucets and door handles in public restrooms, or push elevator buttons with your knuckle, not your fingertip.
Covering your nose and mouth with a mask not only helps to stop the spread of COVID-19, it lowers transmission rates of other illnesses. Last flu season, fewer people than usual got the flu, and experts believe that mask-wearing, hand hygiene, and social distancing contributed to the drop. Masks also discourage you from touching your nose or mouth in public.
Flu vaccines and COVID-19 vaccines are widely available, and they significantly lower your risk of becoming ill. If you do get the flu or COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, it likely would be mild, and you’re less likely to be hospitalized. There are also treatments such as paxlovid that may help patients who are eligible reduce COVID-19 symptoms.
The flu vaccine doesn’t fully protect against COVID-19, but recent research found that people who received flu shots and then got COVID-19 were less likely to experience serious complications, including stroke or sepsis. So why not do both?
Take care of yourself
Healthy lifestyle habits may help strengthen your immune system, making you less susceptible to illness. Choose fruits, bright colored vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean protein and whole grains over processed foods to boost your immune system. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily, and sleep 7 to 8 hours each night.
Manage your mental health
Immune system function is optimized by stress reduction. Find ways to reduce the stress in your life, whether that means stepping back from certain situations or doing things that help you feel good about yourself. Practicing gratitude or exercising, for example, are great for your mood, and studies have shown that they may help people live longer and healthier.
If you’re concerned about cold or flu symptoms, Doctor On Demand’s board-certified providers are available for video visits 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our clinicians will listen to your concerns, evaluate your symptoms and can provide treatment, including sending prescriptions electronically to your local pharmacy for rapid pickup.
About the author
Prentiss Taylor M.D. is the Vice President of Medical Affairs at Doctor On Demand. He is board-certified in Preventive Medicine as well as in Internal Medicine. Prentiss is an honors graduate of Harvard University and of Harvard Medical School. He trained at the University of Chicago Hospitals and at Rush University Medical Center for his postgraduate years. After working for Advocate in the 1990s, Prentiss was recruited to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, where he worked for over 6 years. He was promoted to Medical Director for Care Management, responsible for 1.2 million people in the Blue Cross PPO programs.