Healthy Habits to Prevent the Flu During the Pandemic

It’s that time of year: flu season is upon us... but we’re already in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that many of the same habits and measures that medical staff and the general public have adopted to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus should be effective at reducing the spread of influenza, too. In essence, if you’re taking steps to prevent COVID-19, those steps should also help prevent the flu.

These are some of the core healthy habits that can reduce your chances of getting the flu this season, made even more important because of the pandemic. Share these tips with your patients and your co-workers. Even people who are acquainted with flu prevention could benefit from a refresher.

Get your flu shot. This is perhaps the biggest step that you can take to prevent the flu, and is a requirement at many healthcare facilities. A seasonal flu vaccine will reduce your chances of contracting the flu. When vaccinated, even if you do get the flu, you are much less likely to develop serious complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over six months of age get a flu vaccination (with a few exceptions), including all U.S. healthcare workers. Vaccination is especially important if you’re at high risk for developing complications or care for people who are high-risk.

Rest up. A tired body is a more vulnerable body. If you’re ever instructed your patients to focus on getting more sleep, you should listen to your own advice.  In fact, sleep-deprived physicians can face a number of problems, so it pays to develop some healthy sleep habits, shooting for 7 to 9 hours of rest every 24 hours.

Wear a mask. These days, your workplace undoubtedly requires that you wear a medical grade facemask to halt the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But even when you’re off duty, wearing a mask can be a good way to reduce the potential transmission of COVID-19 and the flu. Even medical professionals have to cough or sneeze from time to time, and a mask can help contain those respiratory droplets when you’re in places like the grocery store. Since experts usually recommend covering the mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of the flu, this is one way to do just that.

Avoid touching your face. It’s a good idea to avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with your hands during flu season--and now, during the COVID pandemic. Otherwise, you may spread germs from yourself to someone else, or vice versa.

Avoid close contact with others. This strategy is actually a two-pronged approach: avoid close contact with other people who are sick, and avoid close contact with other people when you are sick. This might actually be easier this because of the pandemic, since many people are already practicing social distancing and remaining home as much as possible.

Keep it clean. The CDC recommends cleaning high-touch surfaces regularly to prevent the flu from spreading. This includes surfaces at home and at work. Concentrate on surfaces like telephones, keyboards, sink faucets, doorknobs and counters.

Contact your doctor if you begin to show symptoms. Normally, you might just crawl into bed and wait out any flu-like symptoms that you develop, or perhaps you might get tested for the flu. This year, it may be hard to distinguish symptoms of the flu from symptoms of COVID-19. Find out what your workplace requires and contact your own primary care physician by phone, email or via your patient portal to ask for guidance. You may need to get tested for both COVID and the flu.

Encourage your co-workers in healthy habits, too. Remind your co-workers that everyone needs to embrace healthy habits, not just the patients. And you can help remind people of the importance of avoiding contact with others if they get sick. So, if one of your fellow healthcare professionals is coughing and fighting off the chills, urge him or her to stay home--and perhaps get tested for the flu or COVID (or both).

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