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Avoiding the Flu

The Martha Stewart Show, Episode 3048

Each year, anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of people living in the United States catch the flu, and about 36,000 of those people die from it. However, there are ways to keep these numbers down. To best protect yourself from catching the flu, follow these simple steps.

Make Your Environment Less Hospitable for the Virus Research recently released from Mount Sinai hospital shows that the flu virus travels faster and farther in cold, dry-air winter conditions. Keeping your indoor temperature at 68 degrees or higher and the humidity level of the home at least 50 percent may reduce transmission of the virus.

Sneeze and Cough into Your Elbow
When doctors or nurses are working in the hospital, you'll see them turn their head away and cough or sneeze into the elbow area. This lets fewer germs escape into the surrounding air and also keeps the hands clean.

Wash Your Hands Frequently and Thoroughly
To thoroughly clean your hands, scrub them with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. Also, keep your hands away from your face. This is often how people infect themselves with the flu virus. One study found that people absent-mindedly touched their face an average of 15 times an hour.

Don't Smoke and Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Even one puff from a cigarette can paralyze the small, hairlike cells that line the nose and throat called cilia. These cilia are important players in keeping germs from entering the body as they sweep away incoming germs before they can infect the body. If they are paralyzed, they can't do this job. Even moderate, regular use of alcohol can compromise the immune system.

Get Vaccinated
Get yourselves and your children immunized. The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone who doesn't want to get the flu and is safe for people ages 6 months and older, and takes two to four weeks to take affect.

The biggest misconception about the flu vaccine is that people think they can catch the flu from the vaccine. You can get a sore arm and possibly a low-grade fever as your body reacts to the shot, but you cannot get the flu. If you hear people say that they had a negative reaction to the shot, what most likely happened was that they were already infected beforehand and the symptoms started showing after the shot -- or they caught a virus while in the doctor's office.

Each year, the government analyzes more than 6,000 flu viruses from around the world to predict which strains are the prevalent and the most virulent. They narrow this down to three strains that they create the vaccine out of. This year's vaccine comes from strains of the virus that were first identified in the Solomon Islands, Malaysia, and Wisconsin. The virus is grown in eggs, harvested, and then inactivated.

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