Every year millions of folks wind up sick with influenza or the flu, and its severity is always unpredictable.  Every year’s flu season takes lives across the U.S. every day.  The predominant virus this season, Influenza A (H3N2), primarily affects older adults and the very young, but do not get it twisted as the flu can hit anyone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that at least one-fifth of the U.S. population can be protected from the flu if they take the right steps to protect themselves from catching it. The flu can knock you out for a couple of weeks, and this can be a major setback in your life. The best way to avoid the problems associated with the flu is to take precautions, and here are some strategies so that you can avoid it:

Wash your hands:  Soap and water is a key way to lower your chances of getting sick with a cold or flu.  Germs often make a home for themselves on your hands and when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you introduce them into your body.  Handwashing can prevent about 20 percent of respiratory infections according to the CDC.

Get a flu shot:  The flu can be dangerous especially for older adults.  Many African Americans reportedly do not get the shots because they don’t trust the vaccine. The CDC states that just 41 percent of Blacks get vaccinated compared to about 50 percent of whites.  Flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, particularly in those with already compromised immune systems from chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Therefore getting vaccinated every single year is much safer than risking illness. Studies have found that in healthy adults, the flu vaccine can decrease the chances of coming down with the flu by as much as 70 percent to 90 percent. Even though the vaccine can’t completely prevent flu in everyone, it can lessen the severity and duration of your symptoms.  And NO, a flu shot does not cause influenza!

Use throwaways to curb germs:  When you have a sick household, use disposable utensils plates and cups until everyone gets better. Consider replacing cloth hand towels with paper ones as well. Disposables during cold and flu season are a great way to stop the spread of nasty germs amongst family members.

Consider probiotics:  The benefits of probiotics for digestive health have been long-touted, but recent evidence has shown those “good bacteria” may help fend off colds and flu too.  The research around probiotics for cold and flu prevention continues. Despite any debate, probiotics are generally considered safe, so adding a daily serving of yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, miso, or tempeh to your other wellness strategies, can’t hurt.

Stay hydrated:  Water helps to flush out toxins in the body so staying hydrated is essential to every bodily function. One recent study found that staying hydrated may boost a particular immune response to enable your body to better fight the viruses.  Women should shoot for at least 9 cups of water per day and men, 13 cups.

Clean those germy surfaces:  Arm yourself with those canister disinfecting wipes to annihilate germs, bacteria from the many surfaces around you that can make you sick.  Germs tend to linger on surfaces for hours so take time to wipe down germ havens like computer keyboards, light switches, doorknobs, phones, TV remotes, faucet handles, car door handles, steering wheels.  Just aim and wipe!

Exercise:  Staying in shape by exercising, makes you feel good, boosts your immune system, and can help prevent cold and flu viruses from giving you the blues. Additionally, warding off extra pounds is crucial for overall health, especially when it comes to preventing the flu.

Hand sanitizer:  Even though handwashing with ordinary soap and water is the most effective way to remove germs from your hands, alcohol-based hand sanitizers kill most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in a few seconds. Rubbing your hands with sanitizer for about 15 seconds is ideal.

Eat healthy:  Fruits, vegetables, low-fat proteins, fish and complex carbohydrates are the keys to good nutrition that will stoke your immune system. A recent study found that providing older adults with plenty of nutrients improved their immune systems and helped them dodge that flu virus.

Sleep:  Getting enough shut-eye is crucial for keeping your body running smoothly.  Studies have proven time and time again that not getting enough sleep can lower immunity. So catch enough zzz’s in order to keep that nasty flu far, far away!