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Officially, flu season lasts far longer than most people think, running from late fall through early spring. Sometimes, flu season even lasts until May.
Your best line of defense against the seasonal flu is to be vaccinated against both. It is still not too late to be vaccinated with a flu shot or nasal spray! (To find vaccination options near you, visit flu.gov)
Bear in mind that the vaccine's ability to prevent a case of the flu largely depends on your age and health status and on how closely the virus strains in the vaccine match the ones circulating in your community. In other words, you can still catch the flu after you've had the shot, but your case will be milder.
Another plus: Vaccination will protect you from flu-related complications.
The bottom line is, even after you've taken the flu shot or nasal spray, it is still up to you to do all you can do to stay healthy.
"People, busy parents in particular, forget that there are many other things that they can do to prevent the flu. Ultimately, their family's flu fate is literally in their own hands." So says noted pediatrician Dr. William Sears, father of eight and author of more than 40 books, including the recently released Prime-Time Health: A Scientifically Proven Plan for Feeling Young and Living Longer.
Here, Dr. Sears's outlines his five-step, all-out game plan to foil the flu.
1. Avoid Germs
Flu germs are spread through hand-to-hand contact, or when sneezed or coughed into the air. To minimize exposure, keep away from anyone who is sick, stay out of crowded rooms, and avoid shaking hands.
"Shaking hands is not a good social custom during flu season," Dr. Sears says. "When the flu is out and about, take a tip from what other nations do -- most of the world nods their heads in greeting. Instead of shaking hands, nod and say 'good to see you'"
2. Keep Hands Clean
The best way to do this is to wash your hands often. When soap and water are not available, antibacterial hand wipes are an effective alternative. Carry them in pockets and lunchboxes.
3. Eat Immune-Boosting Foods
The best way to boost the immune system is to add more fruits, vegetables, seafood, and yogurt to your daily diet.
"Eat salmon, salads and smoothies -- those are my three top immune-boosters," says Dr. Sears. "A simple fruit-and-yogurt smoothie contains important phytonutrients, which is just a fancy name for immune-boosters. And, by the way, the same nutrients that give fruits their color also boost the immune system. The darker the color of the fruit or vegetable, the better it is for you. That's why blueberries are one of the most nutritious fruits. Dark green spinach is a great vegetable too.
"Eat a fruit-and-yogurt smoothie in the morning and a big salad of dark-colored vegetables in the evening, and you're helping your body to fight the flu.
"That said, salmon is my all-time favorite health-enhancing food. The omega-3 oils in salmon are powerful immune-boosters, especially during the flu season. Whenever possible, pay that extra couple of dollars for wild salmon. It really does make a difference. The oil profile -- the healthy oil profile, which is why we eat fish in the first place -- is healthier in wild salmon."
4. Keep Your Nose and Sinuses Clear
Flu germs often settle first in the nose and sinuses. To clear nasal passages, either flush them out with a saltwater solution or loosen secretions with a facial steamer or vaporizer.
5. Be Active
Exercise mobilizes the immune system. Kids who sit too much -- especially indoors -- get sick more often. Being active also helps to mellow your mood, which is beneficial, because stress depresses the immune system.
"Run! Ride a bike! Jump rope! Play ball! Swim! Or simply take regular walks," advises Dr. Sears. "Exercise doesn't have to be hard core. It just means being active -- in a word, move. That's not too much to ask for the gift of health."
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