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Flu season is in full swing, with much of the country experiencing high levels of infection, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One CDC expert told the Associated Press that this year’s flu season — which appears to be getting worse — “has a lot more steam than we thought.”
The illness can keep you in bed for days or even weeks. In some cases, it can be fatal. According to the CDC:
Millions of people become ill, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu every year.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Following are some very simple, cost-effective things that will substantially reduce your risk of flu.
Get a free or low-cost flu shot
At this point, it’s awfully late to get the flu shot. But getting your shot can still protect you from the worst effects of the flu. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you will not have to pay for a flu shot. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
Flu and other vaccines are required to be covered by your health insurance without charging a copayment or coinsurance.
However, HHS notes that you must check with your insurance company before you get a shot. Some insurers require you to go to a specific facility to get the vaccination. Fail to heed these rules, and you might end up paying for your shot.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans remain uninsured. If these folks want a flu shot, they will have to pay for it out of pocket. On the bright side, many providers offer the shot at a low cost.
Last October, the Cheapism blog recently surveyed the landscape and found many providers — including Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and Target — offering flu shots for between about $20 and $40. That’s a small price to pay for staying healthy this flu season.
One of the best deals was at Costco, where you can get a flu shot for just $19.99.
Score a bonus on your flu shot
A few providers of flu shots are offering bonuses to people who are vaccinated. For example:
- Target: Get a flu shot at a CVS Pharmacy location inside Target, and you’ll receive a coupon good for $5 off a Target purchase.
- CVS: Get a flu shot at a stand-alone CVS Pharmacy, and you’ll receive $5 off your next purchase of $25.
- Safeway: Get vaccinated at a pharmacy in this grocery chain, and you’ll save 10 percent on groceries.
Wash your hands regularly
A little soap and water hardly costs anything, and yet it provides a tremendous payoff by killing the germs that cause the flu.
The CDC says properly washing your hands involves five steps:
- Wet hands with clean, running water and apply soap.
- Lather hands — including the back of the hands, between fingers and under nails — by rubbing them together with the soap.
- Scrub hands for a minimum of 20 seconds — the length of time it takes you to hum the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
- Rinse hands under clean, running water.
- Dry hands with a clean towel, or allow them to air dry.
If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol, the CDC says.
Avoid touching your nose and eyes
Keeping your hands away from your face is an extremely simple — but effective — way of staying healthy. The CDC notes:
Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
Researchers observed people in public places in Washington, D.C., and in the Brazilian city of Florianopolis, for a 2012 study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
The result: People touched public surfaces an average of 3.3 times an hour — and touched their faces an average of 3.6 times an hour. That’s a recipe for a lot of sick days.
So, keep your hands away from your face this winter. It won’t cost you a penny to do so.
Get more sleep
You probably need a little more shut-eye if you hope to shut down the flu virus this winter. A study published in the journal Behavioral Sleep Medicine found that “insomnia may be a risk factor for lowered immunity to the influenza virus.”
The University of Chicago explains the risk of too little sleep:
Without sleep, your body will direct energy sources elsewhere, often at the expense of your immune system. This will make you more susceptible to illnesses, such as a cold or the flu.
Sleep is another flu-fighting tool that is cost-free.
It seems there is no end to the health benefits associated with exercise. Fighting off the flu is one more perk to add to the list. According to a 2014 study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine:
Doing vigorous exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week reduces your chances of experiencing a flu-like illness by around 10 percent.
For more on lowering your health care costs, check out:
- “16 Ways to Beat the High Cost of Medical Care“
- “2 Ways to Brace Your Budget for Rising Health Care Costs“
Do know of other cost-effective ways to keep the flu at bay? Share your insights by commenting below or on our Facebook page.
“This is a season that has a lot more steam than we thought,”