“The flu” has turned into quite the buzzword lately with reports of a record high season and shot shortages. A few of our favorite stars even spoke of feeling under the weather last week at the Golden Globes while others were sidelined from the event altogether. “Meryl Streep is not here tonight,” funny gal Amy Poehler announced. “She has the flu—and I hear she’s amazing in it.” The epidemic is no laughing matter though with new cases of the widespread illness popping up every day across 47 states. We spoke with Dr. Phillip M. Tierno, Jr., New York University’s Director of Clinical Macrobiology and Diagnostic Immunology, about the virus and the most common germ-infested areas. Don’t stock up on soup and tissues just yet! Here’s all you need to know about battling the bug:
- Inject immunity—if you haven’t already. “A flu shot is probably one of the best things you can do to offset getting sick,” said Dr. Tierno, especially since up to 60 million people will get the flu annually, depending on vaccines! Find a vaccine near you with the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.
- Break the chain of transmission. According to Dr. Tierno, 80% of all infections are spread through contact—both direct (sharing a spoon with a sickie) and indirect (pressing an infected elevator button then rubbing your eye). Since viruses can live on surfaces for months, it is crucial to keep commonly touched spots sanitary. Think outside your typical “wash your hands before you eat” type of cleanliness in terms of personal hygiene. For example, keep clean and dirty clothing in separate baskets. Germs from dirty clothes can transfer onto freshly washed laundry—ew, gross!
- Take a chill pill. “Stress hormones reduce immune response,” said Dr. Tierno. Relax and work out any built-up tension with a few extra oms or pound it out on the treadmill—exercise strengthens your immune system, as does proper rest! Staying positive can also help. “If you are an optimist, studies have shown that you fare better than those who see the glass half empty.”
- Clean kitchen etiquette. Boosting your immune system with a diet rich in fruits and veggies is nothing new. Remembering to properly wash and cook them, however, is a different story. According to Dr. Tierno, the kitchen is the dirtiest room in a person’s humble abode—most foodborne illnesses are found in the home, not in restaurants! This unfortunately is no surprise with only 17 percent of people washing their hands with soap and water after preparing raw chicken, as the Global Hygiene Council found. Be wary of cross-contamination by designating separate cutting boards for meat and produce. Ninety percent of hand-contact surfaces in the kitchen are contaminated so regular disinfecting of soap dispensers, sink faucets and surfaces is imperative. The biggest bacteria culprits? Your kitchen towels and sponges.
- Be aware of your [sick] surroundings. Gym equipment, gas nozzles, doorknobs, shopping carts and restaurant menus are just a few of the biggest cold and flu virus hotspots. “No one is saying ‘live in a bubble,’ but you have to be reasonably prudent in your environment,” said Dr. Tierno. Avoid contact with those who are sick and if you do catch what has been going around, stay home from work at least 24 hours after your fever has dropped to avoid infecting others.
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