November 19, 2016 8:00 am
Updated: November 19, 2016 8:01 am

7 steps to surviving the cold and flu season without getting sick

Health officials are advising everyone to get a flu shot. This year's strain is expected to be a bad one. Geoff Hastings has more on who's at risk and why the vaccine should be a lot more effective this year.

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It’s that time of year again – sick days, flu shots and trying to keep away from catching a cold or the flu over the holidays.

Each fall, Canadians brace themselves for colder weather and the runny noses, sore throats, lingering coughs and viruses that follow.

This year, experts say the country needs to brace itself for another round of H3N2, the predominant strain of influenza that should be circulating.

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READ MORE: What Canadians should expect from the 2016-17 flu season

The idea of battling the flu, or grappling with a cough and cold isn’t fun. Global News asked experts for their tips on how to survive the season without getting sick.

Cover your mouth in public spaces

When you’re in a crowded environment, Canadian microbiologist Jason Tetro suggests taking a lesson from health-care workers: wear a fashionable mask. Wrap a scarf around your neck, mouth and nose as you’re bundling up to head outdoors or onto public transportation.

READ MORE: Is the ‘5 second rule’ real? Scientist says it’s all about location

“It’ll help to prevent droplets from getting into your system and looks far less ominous than a mask,” Tetro said.
He suggests this move could offer up to 70 per cent protection against germs.

Wash your hands for 30 seconds

During the enterovirus outbreak in 2014, Dr. B. Louise Giles insisted on reminding parents of the importance of thorough hand washing. This applies to the flu season, too.

“We know germs are on hands and with good hand washing – using soap and warm water – you’ll reduce the risk,” Giles, a Canadian doctor and pediatrician at the University of Chicago’s Comer Children’s Hospital, explained.

READ MORE: Handwashing 101 – 6 steps to kill the germs on your hands

Teach your kids to rinse their hands with soap for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday or Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star so they’re thoroughly washing up.

Soap and water work best but if you must, use anti-bacterial hand gel. Just make sure you use the sanitizer liberally – you need to wet your hands for at least 15 seconds to break up and kill the microbes.

Fist bump instead of shaking hands

Our hands touch doorknobs, keyboards, bathroom taps and other surfaces. We often cough or sneeze into our hands, too. You don’t want to be shaking hands with your peers at the height of flu season.

This is why the experts say that a fist bump is your best bet when it comes to preventing the spread of germs in the office.

READ MORE: Fist bumps spread fewer bacteria than handshakes

“Most of the time, we touch our faces so we need to make sure we’re not moving germs right up to our mouths, and noses,” Tetro said.

One study suggests that knocking knuckles spreads only one-twentieth the amount of bacteria than a handshake does. A high five is better too – that passes along less than half the amount of germs as a handshake.

WATCH: Carey Marsden explains why fist bumps might be healthier than the traditional handshake.

Cough and sneeze into your elbow

If you sneeze into the crease of your elbow, you’re less likely to transmit germs than you would if you cough into your hands, the experts say.

“People don’t have contact with that part of the body,” Dr. Gerald Evans explained. If you’re worried about germs staying on your clothing, don’t. The germs will likely be absorbed into the fabric and won’t be a concern.

Stay away, or stay home

Giles also reminds parents to be mindful of other families: if your child is sick, don’t send him or her to school. That extends to adults, too. In 2014, the Ontario Medical Association recommended that Canadians should stay home if they’re under the weather and urged bosses to stop asking for sick notes.

Heading into work or the doctor’s office when you’re sick means you’re potentially infecting others.

READ MORE: Got the flu? Stay home and bosses, don’t ask for sick notes

If your child is sick, he or she could infect others who are more vulnerable, too. Their peers could be dealing with asthma or other underlying health conditions triggered by influenza.

If you’re heading to public spaces where germs could be at bay, it might even be worthwhile to keep your kids at home if they’re at high risk of complications from a nasty bout of the flu.

Keep your immune system strong

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night, drink eight glasses of water a day and eat your fruits and vegetables, according to pharmacist and Shoppers Drug Mart owner, Bhavika Prajapati.

READ MORE: How do you treat the common cold? Here’s what works and what doesn’t

“It’s never 100 per cent but you can greatly minimize your risk of getting the flu by simple things like practicing good hygiene, keeping your immune system healthy, getting your flu shot, lots of rest and staying hydrated,” she told Global News.

Get your flu shot

The single best way to arm yourself against the flu is to head to the clinic, roll up your sleeve and get vaccinated.

At this point, Evans says that vaccination rates nationally sit at a meagre 20 to 25 per cent while health-care workers report higher numbers at about 40 per cent.

Evans says that if at least 75 per cent of the public were to be immunized, “herd immunity” would occur. That means the risk of transmission to an unvaccinated person is low, if most of the people around them were vaccinated.

He cautions that while most of us feel healthy, the flu shot has benefits that extend beyond our own immune systems.

“I’m a doctor and I get my shot every year so the likelihood of me getting the flu is reduced, and that means I’m unlikely to transmit to my family, my friends and to my patients that I see,” he said.

“It’s one of those things where it’s good for you, but it’s also good for everybody around you too.”

Kids as young as six months old can start getting the vaccine.

It’s also recommended for populations at risk of complications. These people who are more vulnerable include pregnant women, children under five years old, seniors and residents in long-term care or nursing homes.

Those with underlying health problems, such as chronic diseases (asthma, chronic bronchitis, cancer) should also make their way to a flu vaccination clinic.

Evans suggests that getting the vaccine earlier helps. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be most effective, and its effects are long-lasting.

For more on the flu season, take a look at the government’s Flu Watch.

To read about flu prevention tips, take a look at the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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