Sick Smarts

Autumn colors and cooler temperatures mark the changing seasons; out with summer and in with cold and flu season. As we head inside, our closer quarters mean we are at a higher risk for sharing in whatever bug is going around.

The best way to avoid illness is to utilize a common sense approach to avoid getting sick; if you do fall ill, there are tips to bounce back as soon as possible.

We hear all the time the best method to avoid getting sick in the first place is to wash your hands, and our experts couldn’t agree more. Good hand hygiene is the single most important way to prevent all types of infections.

“Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” encourages Dr. Dianna Willis, family medicine physician with Utica Park Clinic in Sapulpa.

“It is especially important to clean your hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom; after changing a diaper; before preparing or eating food; after blowing your nose, sneezing or coughing; after caring for a sick person; and after touching an animal,” shares Kendra Dougherty, epidemiologist in the Acute Disease Service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Dr. Kathryn Reilly, professor of family medicine at the University of Oklahoma, suggests taking this idea a step further. Whenever possible, take the time to clean communal equipment before using.

“Cleaning equipment like phones that are used by lots of people can help,” recommends Reilly. Another equally important way to stay healthy is to keep your immunizations up to date, the influenza vaccination in particular, advises Dougherty. Many think they can simply avoid people who are sick.

“But, that is not always possible,” explains Reilly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu symptoms start one to four days after the virus enters the body, meaning people are often contagious before they even know they are sick, shares Willis.  

“Avoid putting yourself at risk by getting a flu vaccination,” encourages Willis.

Despite what some may think, the flu vaccination does not cause the flu, assures Willis. Each type of flu virus has different strains that change from year to year so it is important to get the flu shot each and every year, offers Dougherty.

Additionally, the vaccine typically protects against three to four strains of the flu that are circulating at the same time, so it’s always worthwhile to get a flu shot, even if you think you’ve already had the flu, says Reilly.

“It’s never too late to get the flu shot,” explains Dougherty.

“If you get sick from one strain of the flu, it would provide protection from getting the flu again from a different strain.”
Additionally, the vaccine can lessen the symptoms if you do end up sick, adds Reilly. “The flu vaccine can mean the difference from being really sick for a long time and being mildly sick for a few days,” she explains.

Healthy lifestyle habits may help ward off illnesses, as well, shares Reilly.

“Studies have shown that people who eat a healthy diet and [perform] moderate exercise regularly tend to have fewer upper respiratory infections,” says Reilly.