How to Prevent Viral Infections Like the Cold and Flu

8 Simple Tricks to Prevent Catching the Cold or Flu This Winter

Older man coughing into napkin
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Preventing common viral infections like the cold or flu becomes even more important as you get older, especially if you suffer from chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. Infections you could fight off within a week when you were younger, become more serious as you age and have the potential to lead to more dangerous complications, including pneumonia or dehydration.

How to Avoid Colds and the Flu

Here in the United States, winter is prime time for illness.

 Cold and flu season typically starts in October, peaks in February and can last until as late as May.

As with most illness, the best approach to cold and flu season is prevention. These eight tips can help you to stay healthy even in the face of nasty viruses.

Get a Flu Shot

When it comes to preventing illness during cold and flu season, most people think of the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine contains protection against the type A and type B flu strains identified as prevalent in that year.

Even though a flu shot won't necessarily guard against the rogue strains of the virus experts did not expect to see, the flu shot remains your best bet for staying flu-free.

Unlike the flu, there is no vaccine for the common cold.

Wash Your Hands

Frequent hand washing helps prevent transmission of illness.

A cold virus on your hands can stay alive for up to three hours. If during that time you touch your eyes or nose, you could become infected.

Avoid Touching Your Eyes or Nose

Washing your hands often is important, but you may not be able to keep up with every handshake, doorknob, or elevator button. Get in the habit of not touching your eyes or nose unless you've just washed your hands, as they are the most common routes of entry for flu and cold viruses.

Stay Hydrated

Dry, centrally heated air can promote dehydration, which may leave you more susceptible to illness. Drink beverages throughout the day to stay hydrated and have a glass of water when you feel thirsty. 

Alcohol, in particular, can cause dehydration.

Get Enough Sleep

It is hard to fight infection if your body isn't well-rested. To help you sleep well, try to keep a regular routine at bedtime. Seniors need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

Avoid Airplane Infections

During cold and flu season, it seems as though there is always, at least, one person coughing on the flight. They may even be sitting right behind you. The best defense is to keep well hydrated and to use some type of moisturizing spray in your nose, because the air on the plane is very drying. Dry nasal membranes are likely to become cracked and open to infection.

Stay Away From People Fighting a Cold

While it's not always possible to avoid every person fighting a cold, try to avoid contact with those you know are ill.

This is especially true for people with compromised immune systems.

Use Caution at Buffets

Eating out or at a family potluck can be nice, but be on guard. If someone coughs on the food or, in any other way, contaminates the food or shared serving utensils, it could then easily be transmitted to you.

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