Between 5 and 20 percent of Americans contract influenza, commonly known as the flu, each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 200,000 of these will be hospitalized for complications from the virus. Read on to discover strategies for protecting yourself from the flu, and what you should do if you should come down with it.

Get a Flu Shot

Image via Flickr by USACE Europe District

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone has an annual flu shot from the age of six months. This is the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu.

The vaccine is most effective when it’s administered by October. Receiving the flu shot as soon as it’s available will ensure that you’re protected for the entire flu season (late October to mid-March). However, while the virus is prevalent, it’s never too late to vaccinate.

Stay Away From Sick People

It can be difficult to determine whether someone is sick with the flu or another virus, such as the common cold. For this reason, it’s smart to keep your distance from anyone who appears ill.

You might also try to avoid crowds and public places where people with the flu may be during the flu season. “The honest truth is, in a large environment—waiting rooms, airports, supermarkets—it’s very difficult to protect oneself from catching a virus,” explains Robert Schwartz, MD, of the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands regularly will also help protect you from the flu. Effectively washing your hands should take around 20 seconds. Make sure to use soap and scrub and back of your hands, under your nails, and between your fingers. Wash your hands after spending time in a public place or handling any item a sick person has touched. Keep some hand sanitizer gel or hand wipes with you at all times to keep your hands clean throughout the day.

What to Do if You Contract the Flu

Despite your best efforts, you may still contract influenza. It’s essential to seek medical attention when you start feeling ill. You may not feel like getting out of bed, but you can chat with a doctor via your mobile device using the Curely app. This clever app provides affordable medical consultations in the comfort of your own home.

Depending on your symptoms, the Curely doctor may suggest that you visit a physician in person for further treatment. Curely doctors cannot prescribe medication, including the antiviral drugs often recommended to minimize the symptoms and speed the recovery of high-risk patients, including children, pregnant women, asthmatics, and the elderly. These medications can also prevent the flu from developing into a more serious condition, such as pneumonia.

While you have the flu, it’s also important to isolate yourself to prevent its spread. Stay home from school and work and turn down social engagements until you are well.

Prevention is always better than a cure, so make sure that you take measures to keep yourself safe from the flu this year. However, if you do contract the virus, make sure you seek medical attention to put you on the path to recovery.

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