Flu season: It’s the time of year when many of us become acutely aware of anyone sniffling and sneezing nearby. We hope to avoid a brush with the virus, which can leave us feeling awful for a few days or a week or two, causing us to miss work and be unable to take care of our families. And in severe cases, it can lead to hospitalization or death.
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious virus that attacks the respiratory system. The symptoms—fever, coughing, runny nose, sneezing, fatigue—come on quickly and can hit you like a ton of bricks. More severe than the common cold, the flu can be very dangerous to certain groups, including infants, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
When an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, he or she can spread the virus through the air. Uninfected people may then inhale the virus into their nose or mouth—areas where the virus can take up residence, infecting a person’s cells and making copies of itself (replicating). The more the virus replicates, the sicker the person becomes. The flu virus can also be introduced to the nose and mouth by touching surfaces where the virus is—think door handles, elevator buttons and sink faucets—and then touching the face.
So what can you do to stay flu free? Recent research suggests that estrogen may lend women extra protection against the virus. But to give yourself the best chance of staying healthy through flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends several strategies, including:
- getting the flu vaccine each year,
- washing your hands frequently,
- cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated with germs, and
- avoiding touching your face with your hands.
Also, remember that the activities that keep you and your immune system healthy throughout the rest of the year—eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep and exercise—may help you ward off the flu, too. Learn more about the flu on the CDC website.
Stacy Brooks is the former director of marketing and communications for the American Physiological Society (APS). One of her favorite things about working at APS was learning about the interesting and important research that physiologists do and finding ways to communicate their science to a wide variety of audiences who benefit from these research advances.