Best Ways to Prevent the Flu

And Get Over It Faster Once You’ve Got It

Fever, chills, body aches, headache… we all know what the symptoms mean: one or two weeks of feeling awful. While fending off the flu (especially from October to March) can be difficult, there is plenty you can do to cut down on the odds of catching it, or at least ensure that you don’t suffer long if you do get the flu.

Getting the flu vaccine, taking some basic precautionary measures and being aware of antiviral flu medications like Tamiflu and Relenza have all been proven effective anti-flu strategies. In fact, each of these can be a sound strategy even when it’s not flu season, since the flu lands more than 200,000 people in US hospitals every year and around 36,000 die from the flu virus or its complications.

The Flu Vaccine

According to many medical professionals, getting the flu vaccine is the best insurance against spending a couple of weeks in bed with the flu. It can be taken as a shot or, if you fear the needle, in some places it’s available as a nasal spray. The flu vaccine contains inactive influenza viruses and works by prompting the immune system to bolster its defenses against the flu viruses in the drug. The flu "bugs" contained in the vaccine are not strong enough to give anyone the flu, but some people who have had the vaccine may catch a mild version.

In any case, the flu vaccine is only effective in preventing the flu in 70% to 90% of healthy people, because it protects only against the most common strains of the flu virus. There is some chance of contracting a flu virus strain other than those the vaccine protects against. People over 65 who are in poor health may be at greater risk of contracting the flu even if they have received the flu vaccine.

The very young, the elderly, people with immune system problems or chronic diseases, and pregnant women should talk to their doctor before taking the flu vaccine as a nasal spray. Those who have had an allergic reaction to the flu shot in the past or who are allergic to eggs should do the same. Consult your doctor about the flu vaccine if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

Prevent the Flu With Healthy Habits

There are a number of things you can do on a day-to-day basis to keep the flu virus at a safe distance:

  • The flu bug spreads most often through physical contact rather than through the air. So wash your hands often with soap and water and use a tissue when you sneeze or cough. Carry a hand sanitizer gel or alcohol-based hand cleaner during flu season if your access to a bathroom for hand-washing is limited.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, ears and mouth too frequently as they are well-known entry points for germs including the flu virus. If you must, use your knuckles to rub your eyes, rather than the tips of your fingers.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, get fresh air and exercise. Dehydration makes you vulnerable to the flu virus, especially in winter. Being cooped up indoors when it’s cold also increases your chances of getting the flu because you may find yourself in close proximity to others who have been exposed to the flu virus. Exercise helps build up antibodies, boosting your immunity to a range of illnesses including the flu and the common cold.
  • Learning to relax and avoiding job stress can reduce your risk of getting the flu. Various studies have shown that stress reduces your immunity. A relaxed state of mind allows more interleukins, which fight the flu and other viruses, to enter the bloodstream. Learning a simple meditation technique and cultivating regular sleep habits can help keep you de-stressed.
  • Avoid smoking (which makes the flu worse) and drinking too much (because it dehydrates the body and paves the way for secondary complications).
  • Eat more yogurt! Studies have shown that a cup of yogurt every day can cut the flu risk by 25%. Some doctors also recommend eating organic vegetables and fruits, especially dark green, red and yellow ones, and taking a garlic supplement.
  • Visit the sauna during flu season. Some medical professionals believe that the warm air you breathe may kill cold and flu viruses.
  • Since the flu spreads from person to person, steer clear of family, friends and others with the flu as much as possible. And if you yourself are ill with the flu, stay at home.

Other simple suggestions for preventing the spread of the flu include leaving windows open a crack during winter to allow fresh air to enter your home, using a humidifier, and sneezing or coughing into your sleeve instead of your hand.

Tamiflu and Relenza – Antivirals that Fight the Flu

Antiviral flu medications such as Tamiflu and Relenza can keep you from catching the flu or reduce the severity or length of the illness. Unlike the flu vaccine (which only acts to prevent the flu), Tamiflu and Relenza both treat the flu virus and ease flu symptoms.

These prescription drugs are most effective when taken within 48 hours of experiencing any flu symptoms. Tamiflu and Relenza are especially useful if you have not taken the flu vaccine. Both Tamiflu and Relenza are approximately 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu. If you already have the flu, antivirals like Tamiflu and Relenza help reduce the symptoms and make you less likely to give the flu to others.

Tamiflu (oseltamivir ) capsules are usually taken twice a day for five to seven days. The most common side effects of taking Tamiflu are nausea and vomiting, which are mild and typically disappear soon after treatment begins. More serious Tamiflu allergic reactions have been reported, in rare instances.

Relenza (zanamavir) is inhaled using a special inhalation device and is normally used twice a day for five days to a week. Relenza may not be a suitable option for preventing the flu or reducing its severity if you have lung problems. The most commonly reported side effects of Relenza are nausea, diarrhea or headache.

Tamiflu and Relenza are particularly useful in treating high-risk groups like the elderly and those with certain chronic medical conditions. Treatment is vital to these flu patients because they could develop potentially serious or fatal complications like pneumonia and dehydration, or aggravate health conditions like asthma, heart problems or diabetes.

Tamiflu and Relenza also play an important role in preventing flu infections among staff in places like hospitals and clinics, where people tend to comes into close contact with flu patients.

For more information on the flu virus and how to prevent and treat it, visit the online knowledge base at

To learn more about antiviral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza, see the Tamiflu and Relenza information pages.

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