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Flu season is in full swing, with influenza becoming widespread in most states, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC estimates that there have been more than 6.1 million cases of influenza infections so far this season. And it’s not over. In fact, flu season usually peaks between December and February — and can last as late as May.
Influenza can keep you in bed for days or even weeks. In some cases, it can be fatal.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself. Following are some very simple, cost-effective things that will substantially reduce your risk of catching the flu.
1. Get a flu shot
It’s not too late to get a flu shot, says Steven Salzberg, a professor of biomedical engineering, computer science and biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University.
He wrote in Forbes last week:
“The season is in full swing, but if you get the vaccine today, you’ll likely have excellent protection for the rest of the season. Go get it.”
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, you will not have to pay for a flu shot if you have insurance. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, insurers are required to cover flu and other vaccines and to not charge a copayment or coinsurance.
However, HHS notes that you must check with your insurance company before you get a shot. Some insurance plans require you to go to a specific facility to get a cost-free vaccination.
2. 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.
3. Avoid touching your face
Keeping your hands away from your face is an extremely simple — but effective — way of staying healthy.
The CDC notes that germs often spread by people touching a surface that is contaminated with germs and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
So, keep your hands away from your face this winter. It won’t cost you a penny to do so.
4. Get enough sleep
You need ample shut-eye if you hope to shut down the flu virus this winter. Specifically, you need the recommended seven to eight hours a night, says the National Sleep Foundation.
The nonprofit explains:
“While more sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, skimping on it could adversely affect your immune system, leaving you susceptible to a bad cold or case of the flu.”
Sleep is another flu-fighting tool that is cost-free.
5. Exercise regularly
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 at least 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week reduces your risk of catching a flu-like illness by around 10 percent.
And exercise doesn’t have to cost you a dime, either.
Do know of other cost-effective ways to keep the flu at bay? Share your insights by commenting below or on our Facebook page.