Tips on Staying Healthy During Flu Season

Flu PreventionWhen the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill that guaranteed sick leave to employees at companies with more than four employees, Dr. Ari Gilmore was thrilled.

“As doctors, we have a problem with people’s great work ethic, especially if they’re actively coughing,” he says. Dr. Gilmore offers several tips on how to stay healthy during flu season and what to do if you’ve come down with a cold.

Regular hand washing is critical, especially after being in a public place because germs can live on surfaces for a long time. “Avoid touching your face or rubbing your eyes,” he says.

Exercise can also help. “There has been some evidence that regular exercise keeps the immune system up,” says Gilmore. “Also, regular exposure to sauna-type temperatures makes a difference. The elevated body temperature may decrease the activity of a virus. A couple of studies have shown it to impact mild to moderate cold symptoms. So a good day at the gym with a sauna afterward might be good preventive medicine.”

A flu shot is the best bet, especially for people who work in jobs that demand high-volume contact with the public. “Making sure you get your flu shot is probably the most important preventive step,” Gilmore explains.

When to Visit Your Doctor

If you’ve contracted a cold, the best thing to do is stay home—including from your health clinic—at least for the first three days. “If you don’t have a fever, I recommend staying home for the first two or three days. A top mistake is to visit your doctor right away and infect others,” says Gilmore. “Often, we have people coming in on day two. At that point, we don’t have a whole lot of treatment to offer, and you’re just going to spread it around. If it’s been over three days, come in, and we’ll listen to the lung and make sure it hasn’t turned into pneumonia.”

On the flip side, waiting too long to see a doctor can also be problematic. “We’ve had people who’ve had a fever for five or seven days, and by the time they come in, they’re quite ill,” says Gilmore. “For most people, a temperature is going to be resolved in three days. If it’s not, have it checked out.”

The exceptions are those who are at higher risk, including anyone over 65, children under age four with a fever over 101 degrees, or those dealing with other illnesses. “For those particular populations, there are effective treatments like Tamiflu,” says Gilmore. “It’s worth talking to your doctor about.”