The flu is brutal this season. 26 US states are reporting unusually high flu activity. Here in Alabama, local hospitals are in full diversion protocol, asking patients with flu or flu-like symptoms to avoid coming to the hospital and rescheduling many non-emergency surgeries. Some local schools are even closing due to high numbers of sick teachers and students. With all this sickness going around, here are some tips to help keep your family safe this flu season.
1. The Flu Vaccine Might Not Work…But You Should Still Get It
Even if you got your flu vaccine this year, it may not protect your from the flu. Preliminary reports out of Australia, published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggest the vaccine only has about 10% effectiveness this year — and flu vaccines in the US have the same composition as those used in Australia.
There are a number of reasons why a flu vaccine may be ineffective:
Vaccine manufacturers use computer models to predict the most prevalent strains of the influenza virus for the year. Sometimes those models make incorrect predictions.
Sometimes the influenza virus mutates a new strain after the vaccines have been created for the year.
The primary method of creating flu vaccines uses eggs, but the flu virus doesn’t grow well in eggs, so modified versions of the virus are used to encourage cultivation. Sometimes this makes the vaccine less effective.
Despite that, you and your family should still get the vaccine — it’s safe, it’s inexpensive, and even if it protects one person in your family from the flu, it’s worth it. Pregnant women should especially consider the vaccine. Pregnant women pass the antibodies from the vaccine to their unborn child, which can protect infants during the first six months of their life, when they’re too young to be vaccinated themselves.
2. Limit Social Outings
Until flu season subsides, you may want to limit taking your family to large social gatherings.
Attending events with large numbers of people — festivals, sporting events, church services, even going to movies — increases your chances of interacting with someone carrying the flu virus.
Instead, consider more quality time with your family. Instead of attending a football game, consider having a family game night. Instead of going to movies, consider renting something from Amazon or Google Play or finding a good movie on Netflix.
Depending on the severity of the flu outbreak in your area, you may even want to limit shopping trips. Consider ordering products online instead of going to the store.
Instead of going to the grocery store, consider using a service like Amazon Fresh, if it’s available in your area.
3. Eat More Fresh Fruit and Veggies
Cook more meals using fresh leafy greens and citrus fruits full of Vitamin C. The added nutritional boost can keep your family’s immune systems in top condition and keep everyone well this flu season.
Consider seasoning food with fresh garlic, ginger, turmeric, and lemon, all of which are great for boosting your immune system.
For picky kids that think fruits and veggies are make of yuck, look for recipes to hide vegetables, like these egg and veggie breakfast muffins. You can also offer real juice in fun formats, like homemade fruit juice freezer pops. Thankfully, Baby and Monster love salad and fruit, so I don’t really have this problem.
4. Wash Hands And Sing Happy Birthday
Washing your hands is one of the best defenses against catching the flu virus, but it’s not so much about the type of soap you use as the duration of your hand washing. Since flu is a virus, antibacterial soap isn’t any more effective than other types of soap. You aren’t killing the virus by handwashing so much as just washing it off your hands and down the sink drain.
Teaching kids how to wash their hands for the proper amount of time is actually really easy. The CDC recommends washing your hands for the length of time it takes to sing the Happy Birthday song twice.
For those times when handwashing isn’t convenient, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Keep a bottle in the car or your purse, and consider donating extra hand sanitizer to your children’s classroom. Older kids can carry hand sanitizer in their backpacks (although be sure to check with your school and make sure they’re allowed to have it.)
5. Sanitize Hard Surfaces, But Don’t Sweat The Soft Stuff
You may be tempted to fumigate your entire house with cans of disinfectant spray, but the flu doesn’t actually survive for long outside the human body compared to some other infectious diseases. It only survives for a few minutes on soft surfaces like sheets, blankets, and tissues. That said, it can still survive up to 24 hours on certain hard surfaces.
Here’s a list of objects you might want to disinfect:
Family devices like iPads and Kindles
If your kids spend a lot of time on the floor, it’s also worth mopping with a disinfectant cleaner now and then.
6. Teach Kids The Vampire Cough
Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze is a great way to prevent spreading infectious diseases like flu, but it doesn’t help much if you cough into your hand and then go wiping it on something else. A better way to cover your mouth is to cough or sneeze into the corner of your elbow. Since you don’t really touch anything with your elbow, you’re less likely to get illness-causing germs on nearby surfaces.
Teaching this trick to kids is easy. Just have them pretend they’re wearing a cloak and pulling it across their face like Dracula.
Certain types of people are more susceptible to the flu virus than others. Here’s a few to keep in mind:
People already sick with something else
Children younger than 5, but especially children under 2 years of age
People with certain health conditions, such as cancer
If you have someone in your family that fits this criteria, you want to be particularly careful to avoid exposing them to the flu. If someone in the family comes down with flu, try to keep them away from at-risk family members.
That might mean putting a hold on visits to Grandma’s house, but it’s better than getting Grandma sick — elderly adults are the group most likely to die from flu. Consider using video chat apps like Facetime and Skype to stay connected when physical visits aren’t an option. This is especially helpful for small children, who may not understand why they can’t go visit Grandma.
What Are You Doing To Stay Safe From Flu?
Has the flu outbreak hit your family? What precautions are you taking to keep your family from catching the flu? Tell us in the comments.