There are a few habits you should avoid if you don't want to get sick this year.
Cold and flu season is approaching. As the months get colder and folks are indoors more often, these respiratory illnesses often spread in close quarters.
Flu activity begins to increase in October and often peaks between December and January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to the flu, several other respiratory viruses circulate, such as rhinovirus and RSV, causing cold-like symptoms. And of course, COVID is still a threat as well.
Physicians aren’t immune to this time of year ― but they know better than anyone how to protect themselves. Here’s what experts never do in order to stay healthy:
They don’t skip or delay the flu shot.
Skipping or delaying the flu vaccine can put you at risk of getting really sick from flu-related complications, explained Dr. Marie-Louise Landry, a professor of laboratory medicine at Yale School of Medicine.
“In the past, I contracted the flu multiple times and I was very sick each time,” she said. “Since I have received an annual flu vaccination, I have had only one breakthrough flu infection and it was quite mild and brief in comparison.”
Everyone 6 months and older is recommended to get their flu shot every season, with a few rare exceptions. You’ll want to make sure to get the vaccine as soon as it’s available in your community so your body has time to build up immunity against the virus.
They don’t go to work or school if they’re sick.
“I would definitely avoid going to work if I am sick with the flu or cold. We each have a responsibility to each other and when we go to work while sick, we place others around us at risk,” said Dr. Richard A. Martinello, a professor of infectious disease and pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine.
Since flu and colds spread from an infected person through respiratory droplets and surfaces, it’s best to stay home if you’re sick to reduce the risk of transmission. Even if you’re experiencing no symptoms but tested positive for the flu, you can still spread the virus to others, according to the CDC.
They don’t go out without a mask when sick.
In certain situations, you may have to go out in public while you’re sick. Dr. John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said he would not leave his home without a good mask on, like an N95 or KN95 mask.
“Anyone with a respiratory illness should wear a mask when they are in public places indoors or outdoors if they are next to other people,” Swartzberg said. This greatly decreases the risk of respiratory droplets that can be released in the air when you cough or sneeze while sick.
Proper hand hygiene is critical when preventing illness.
They don’t skip hand-washing.
Practicing poor hand-washing hygiene can be a risk factor for contracting the flu or common cold. According to both Martinello and Swartzberg, you should commit to keeping your hands clean through frequent hand-washing. “When our hands get contaminated after touching a surface where the virus may be present, touching our eyes or nose with those contaminated fingers can expose us and make us sick,” Martinello explained. If you’re on the go and don’t have access to soap and water, you can also use alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a temporary disinfectant. They don’t stick to a normal, busy routine.
It’s important to get enough rest while you’re sick, said Dr. Tamika Henry, a family physician at Unlimited Health Institute.“Oftentimes, we try to push through and keep going and going, regardless of how we feel physically,” she said. “The body gives signs and signals to rest, but we continue to go, which can negatively impact our health.”The good news is that sleep can help you recover more quickly from the cold or flu, as symptoms can last up to two weeks. “Not getting enough sleep is associated with increased inflammation and a diminished immune response, which can prolong the time needed to recover from your illness,” said Matthew Weaver, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School. By making sure you prioritize healthy habits, you’ll have the best chance of staying illness-free during the roughest season of the year.