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How to Prevent Flu and Colds

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How to Prevent Flu and Colds

This guest blog post is by Dr. Miriam Alexander, Medical Director of Employee Health and Wellness at LifeBridge Health in Maryland.

The start of a new year is a great time to renew your commitment to stay healthy all year long. Protecting yourself and your family from colds and the flu is an excellent start.


Get the flu shot.

The best way to avoid the flu is to get a flu shot. That quick pinch can keep you from suffering chills, fever and other nasty symptoms. Even if you do get the flu after receiving the shot, the effects are usually less severe.

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months and older if they don’t have specific allergies or certain rare diseases. It’s especially recommended for people with heart conditions and other chronic illnesses. If you have concerns, check with your doctor.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, so the earlier you get the flu shot, the better.

People over 65 should get a pneumococcal vaccine to protect against certain kinds of pneumonia. Some people under 65 should also receive it if they have multiple medical problems or if they smoke.

Wash your hands often.

Washing your hands is key to preventing that first sneeze or cough. It really works!

Sounds simple, right? But sometimes we forget, or we’re in such a rush we just skip it — especially kids. Be consistent. Wash your hands frequently and teach children to do the same.

An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can work but washing your hands with soap and running water is best.

Splashing a little water and soap on your hands for a second or two isn’t enough. Lather up and briskly rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds — or about as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Be sure to wash the fronts and backs of both hands, under the fingernails and between fingers.

Germs can spread in many ways. We often focus on bathrooms, but lots of surfaces can transmit germs, from doorknobs and faucets to cell phones and kids’ toys.

Viruses and germs can spread by touch, such as children playing or adults shaking hands. If you then touch your face, eyes, nose or mouth you can become infected. Viruses and germs also can travel through the air when a contagious person sneezes or coughs.

While dogs, cats and other pets are part of the family, they also can carry germs. Wash your hands after petting or playing with them.

If you do get sick…

Help protect others by sneezing and coughing into your elbow or using a tissue and immediately throwing it away. When possible, stay home and away from other people.

Finally, was your mother right? Can chicken soup actually help when you have a cold? The answer is yes!

Steam from hot soup can relieve congestion, open your nasal passages and help you breathe more easily. A healthy soup can also be nutritious and help you stay hydrated. Not getting enough fluids can be a problem when fighting a cold or the flu. And while chicken soup may be a favorite for sentimental reasons, any hot, clear liquid can be helpful. Chalk up another win for Mom!

Try some delicious, healthy soup recipes from the American Heart Association.

Learn more about avoiding colds and flu.



Dr. Miriam Alexander is the Medical Director of Employee Health and Wellness at LifeBridge Health in Maryland.

Read her full bio