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Flu Season is Already in Full Force. Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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An early—and potentially bad—flu season is already underway, the CDC reported last week. But it’s not too late to get a flu shot, says Kevin Ronneberg, M.D., associate medical director at Target, where he oversees guest care at the company’s clinics and pharmacies. We asked Dr. Ronneberg about the newer, less painful flu shot, how the vaccine affects workouts and more:

The CDC recommends that all Americans older than six months get an annual flu vaccine. Why do you recommend it for fit, healthy young women? Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu. Getting vaccinated reduces your chance of becoming infected with the flu virus—it can also help to protect the people you love who may not be able to get vaccinated.

All Target pharmacies (find one) now offer the “micro-needle” flu shot. Is it actually less painful? The intradermal needle is 90 percent smaller than a standard flu shot needle and it is also preservative-free. Because the intradermal needle is smaller in size, it is inserted directly under the skin rather than into the muscle. This results in less muscle ache immediately following injection. Essentially, it’s as ouch-free as a shot can be. We offer various options for flu shots—including the traditional flu vaccine. Our pharmacists are also available to help determine which type of vaccine is right for you.

Will getting the flu shot affect my workout that day? The flu vaccine should not impact your exercise routine nor will working out before or after receiving your flu shot impact the effectiveness of the vaccine. While a traditional flu shot may create some muscle soreness at the site it’s given, the micro needle will not and you should be able to proceed with your regular exercise routine. Occasionally, people will feel some general body aches for a day or two. If you do, shorten your routine or take a rest day. Remember to wash your hands and clean workout equipment so you don’t pick up a cold.

What’s the best timing for getting a flu shot if I have a race like a 10K, half marathon or marathon coming up? You cannot catch the flu from getting the flu shot, but sometimes it can cause a day or two of achiness. So, I would plan ahead and get your flu shot a few days before your race. If you really want to ensure you are healthy for your race, make sure you get your shot a few weeks before your race, as the vaccine takes approximately two weeks to protect against prevalent flu strains.

How can I tell if I have the flu and not just a cold? The common cold and influenza are both respiratory illnesses, but they differ in severity and are caused by different types of viruses. Flu is usually more severe and marked by fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, muscle aches and a dry cough. Cold symptoms are generally milder and include a runny or stuffy nose, a sore throat, and sneezing or coughing.

What’s the best way to treat a cold or flu? You can help control symptoms of fever and aches associated with cold and flu by using a medication containing acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Be attentive to cold remedies that contain more than one ingredient to make sure you aren’t taking the same ingredient from two sources.

What do you keep in your medicine cabinet? There are a few essentials I always like to keep in my medicine cabinet, including:

  • Mucinex. An expectorant like Mucinex will help loosen phlegm, making it easier to have a productive cough or clear your nose while you are sick.
  • Cough drops. Stock up on cough drops to help calm coughs and soothe sore throats associated with a cold or the flu.
  • Saline Nasal Spray. Saline nasal sprays help to moisten nasal passages and promotes decreasing nasal congestion. Another great option is using a neti pot. Neti pots help to keep nasal passages clear by thinning and loosening mucus. They can also help to rinse away germs before they turn into a cold, the flu or other illnesses. [Read about neti pot safety.]
  • Sudafed. A pseudoephedrine like Sudafed will help alleviate cold symptoms including sinus pressure and a runny or stuffed nose.
  • Ibuprofen. An ibuprofen like Motrin or Aleve will help to relieve any aches and pains associated with the flu. It will also help with fever control.
  • Robitussin DM. An expectorant with a cough suppressant will help to relieve cough and mucus associated with the flu.

What’s the best way to stay healthy all season? There is no surefire way to completely prevent cold and flu viruses. However, there are a few steps readers can take to safe and healthy during the cold and flu season, including:

  • Get immunized. Prevention is the key to staying healthy during cold and flu season.
  • Stay hydrated. Dehydration doesn’t just occur during the summer. Cold weather and hot and dry buildings promote dehydration during the winter. And dehydration can leave your body more susceptible to common colds and the flu—so drink up!
  • Avoid the water fountain. Bacteria thrive on wet surfaces like water fountains. This is especially true if someone has coughed or sneezed near it recently. Avoid the water fountain at the gym by bringing your own reusable BPA-free water bottle along for your workout.
  • Keep your hands clean. Avoid spreading the germs you’ve picked up at the gym by washing your hands immediately following your workout. As a backup, I also recommend carrying a travel bottle of hand sanitizer in your gym bag.
  • Make a good night’s sleep a top priority. According to the CDC, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
  • Get up and go. During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate more quickly through the body and increase their ability to kill bacteria and viruses. Exercising on a daily basis also builds your immunity over time.

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