It’s well-nigh impossible for the average person to avoid the influenza virus. You have no idea who touched that doorknob or keyboard before you did, and one person coughing on the subway could make you mighty uncomfortable over the next week or two.
Worse, you could unwittingly transmit this potentially devastating disease to those you love. Elders, those with chronic illnesses and/or weakened immune systems, and infants younger than 6 months face the greatest risk.
Following are five frugal ways to lower your risk from the seasonal menace:
1. Get a flu shot
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Getting a flu shot is the No. 1 way to protect yourself and your loved ones. No, it’s not foolproof. But, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says several studies have shown that vaccinations reduced flu-related hospitalizations by more than 70 percent for people of all age groups during recent flu seasons.
The Affordable Care Act has made flu shots free to those with insurance. Those with Medicare Part B can also get vaccinated at no charge.
Just make sure your insurance is accepted by whichever provider you choose, whether that’s a drugstore or a doctor’s office. Otherwise you’ll have to pay upfront and apply for reimbursement. Who needs that?
If you do not have insurance, shop around. In past years, shots were available for as little as $15, or even less.
Finally, your city, county or state health department may offer vaccination clinics, possibly on a sliding scale. They often pop up at senior centers, places of worship and temporary clinics.
You need to get the shot every year; the virus mutates enough from year to year that the resistance you were given by last year’s shot won’t work this year. The vaccination can take up to two weeks before it reaches full efficacy, so get the shot as early as possible, before flu season hits.
2. Wash your hands
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One of the simplest ways to prevent the flu and a number of other illnesses is to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. The CDC advises working up a lather with soap for at least 20 seconds.
Carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer in case you find yourself far from soap and water. Consumer Reports recommends a brand with at least 60 percent alcohol (ethanol or isopropanol).
3. Keep your hands down
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Get out of the habit of touching your eyes, mouth or nose during the day, since all three make great entry ports for viruses and bacteria. Again, the last person who opened the apartment building door may have been as sick as a dog.
4. Eat right
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What’s on your plate may help your body fight off the flu. These include foods rich in protein, zinc and vitamins A and C, plus certain types of tea.
See “5 Flu-Fighting Foods” for more tips.
5. Engage in other healthy behaviors
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The CDC stresses that there are many other things you can do to reduce your risk of contracting the flu.
Try to avoid close contact with those who are sick. Also, make sure you take care of your own health by getting enough sleep, exercising, drinking fluids regularly (especially water) and managing stress levels.
Clean and disinfect surfaces that are regularly touched at home, work or school.
Finally, if you do get the flu, take steps to prevent others from becoming sick. That means:
Stay home from work or school until you feel better.
Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze — and cover with your elbow, not your hand. If you use your hand, the germs you just caught end up on the next thing you touch.
Wash your hands frequently.
Do you have any great ideas for fighting off the flu frugally? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.