Protect yourself from the flu


Prevention is key to avoiding this wintertime malady.

If you've ever come down with the flu-the honest-to-goodness, knock-you-on-your-back influenza virus-you know the wretchedness it brings: the barking cough, the searing headache, the body aches that make you wonder why you can't remember that truck hitting you.

Prevent these misery-inducing germs from taking up residence in your system by using these prevention and hygiene tips from the Harvard Men's Health Watch newsletter:

Wash your hands. Alcohol-based hand gels containing 60 percent to 95 percent isopropanol or ethanol are best, but ordinary soap and water will also help.

Keep your distance. The flu is most contagious when you're within three feet of an infected person.

Wear a mask. If you can't avoid close contact with possible flu victims, shield your airways, especially if you're in a high-risk group.

Stay home. Don't go to work if you have the flu, and encourage employees to stay home if they're sick. They'll recover more quickly and protect others from infection.

Another preventive step is immunization, which can reduce the risk of catching the flu by up to 80 percent. Because the virus is always changing, scientists must develop a new vaccine each year, so you need a new shot to protect yourself from the current strain.

October and November are the ideal months to get vaccinated. And if you're late in getting your immunization this year, two medications can help prevent infection-talk to your doctor about your options. These medications can also ease flu symptoms if you start taking them early in the illness.

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