According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu season can start as early as October and last well into May, so it's time to start thinking about what you need to do to keep you and your family healthy. To help, we've rounded up our best posts about the influenza virus and put it here in one spot so that you can easily find the information you need to avoid the flu — and know what to do if you get it.
Here are several things you need to know to get ready for flu season:
1. What is the flu, anyway? How can just a tiny package of genes wreak such havoc on your body — and on your community? Here's a quick primer on how the flu virus works and how to tell if it's the cold or the flu.
2. Think about the flu shot if you haven't already been stuck. If you're worried about possible side effects, talk to your doctor about which type of vaccine (there are two available) is best for you and when's the best time to get it.
3. Your employer may set up a workplace flu shot clinic. Doing so has been shown to boost workplace productivity and cut back on the time that employees must take from work to get the shot elsewhere. While you're at it, it's a good time to review these tips to help you avoid getting sick at the office.
4. Getting the flu during pregnancy is more dangerous than you might think. It's not because pregnant women have a weakened immune system, rather it's because a mom-to-be's immune system is on hyper-alert and goes into overdrive to fight off the infection. This can lead to more serious symptoms and complications for both mom and baby.
5. Try these tips for improving the effectiveness of your flu shot once you're immunized.
6. Try these tips for avoiding the flu and other illnesses:
- Hand washing. Do it often with soap and water. But don't reach for the hand sanitizer instead. A study published in the journal mSphere found that washing your hands with soap and running water is much better at preventing the spread of infection than using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. But if you're in a pinch, sanitizer is better than nothing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as these are easy openings for germs to enter your body.
- Try to avoid close contact with those who have the flu.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
7. If someone in your house is sick, there's even more you can do to try to stay healthy.
- Create a sick room with everything the person needs, including medicine, tissues and a thermometer.
- If you have a second bathroom, reserve that for the sick person. If you share a bathroom, make sure the sick person uses a separate towel and washcloth.
- Sanitize shared items like doorknobs, remote controls and anything else you can't avoid touching. Use antiseptic wipes or soap and water.
8. Eat some of these 10 flu-fighting foods. From mushrooms to garlic to strawberries, these foods can help boost your immune system and prevent illnesses like the flu from taking hold. Oh, and yes, dark chocolate is on that list. You're welcome.
9. Track the flu to find out when it hits in your area so that you can be more vigilant about hand washing and other preventative measures.
10. What happens if you do get the flu? First, know the symptoms of the flu. It's different from a common cold in that flu symptoms are more severe and tend to come on more quickly. It's also very different from the so-called stomach flu or other tummy bugs that might be making their way around your community. Talk to your doctor about medications you can take to ease your symptoms. Or try natural remedies such as bee pollen, honeysuckle or this recipe for garlic honey lemon tea.
11. If you do get sick, stay home. If your kids are sick, keep them home from school. It's miserable to try to work or learn while you have the flu and going to work and/or school just exposes others to the illness. Grab your tissues and some hot tea and give yourself — or your kids — permission to just rest and recover.
Editor's note: This file has been updated since it was published in November 2014.