It’s flu season! And, you’re likely also hearing a lot about the coronavirus right now. With it being on every continent except Antarctica and there being nearly 2.5 million cases confirmed worldwide (as of 4/21/2020), it’s no wonder why. To date, over 171,000 people have died globally from coronavirus, though the official fatality rate of the disease from the World Health Organization is just .7 percent. And, despite having an even lower fatality rate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate the seasonal flu to have killed 24,000-62,000 people in the United States alone. (Seriously, get your flu shot!)
You likely don’t want to catch the coronavirus, the flu, or any illness, especially if you are in an at-risk age group. For example, demographics play a large part in how deadly coronavirus is, with the fatality rate for seniors at around eight to 14.8 percent. While the viruses that cause these and other illnesses may not lead to your demise, they can still be tough to deal with and get over.
Demographics play a large part in how deadly the coronavirus is.
Though, there’s no way to 100 percent guarantee that you won’t catch anything, short of sealing yourself inside your home (which would present its own issues), there are ways you can lower your chances of getting sick. Many long-term ways to keep your immune system shipshape exist, but we’ll focus on actions you can take now to lower your chances of catching an illness like the flu or coronavirus today.
Wash Your Hands Frequently & Properly
When it comes to avoiding illnesses, one of the first lines of defense is washing your hands. A lot. Our hands are our primary tool for navigating our world, besides our legs and feet, so they touch a lot of things. Other, potentially sick people also touch those things, which opens us up to the possibility of getting their germs on our hands.
According to the CDC, washing your hands reduces the cases of respiratory illnesses in the general population by 16 to 21 percent. This doesn’t mean just rinsing your hands under warm water, though. Washing your hands correctly is key to avoiding spreading those germs to yourself.
So, what is the proper way to wash your hands? According to the CDC, you should follow these steps:
- Wet your hands under running water (warm or cold works) before applying soap.
- Build up a good lather on your hands with the soap. Make sure to get both sides of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for 20 seconds to create and use friction, which lifts dirt and microbes off your skin. (A good way to keep track is to hum the “Happy Birthday” song to yourself twice.)
- Rinse the soap off your hands with clean, running water.
- Dry your hands. You can allow them to air dry or use a clean towel.
If you don’t have soap and water available, you can use hand sanitizers with 60 percent or more of alcohol. Less than that isn’t effective enough to fully kill germs. While hand sanitizers are good to quickly remove germs on your hands, they will not remove grease or visible dirt. For that, you need to wash your hands. Finally, when using hand sanitizer, rub the sanitizer on both hands until they are dry. If you’re thorough and diligent about keeping your hands clean, you’ll eliminate one of the most common ways you can get in contact with germs.
Don’t Touch Your Eyes, Mouth, or Nose
Even if you wash your hands regularly, it’s still wise to avoid touching entryways into your body. Generally, this would be considered your mouth, nose, and eyes. Specifically, the nose and mouth are the main way germs and viruses get into our bodies. By stopping yourself from touching these areas, you’ll cut out the most common source of invading infections. So, nose-pickers and nail-biters (no judgement here), you’ll likely want to quit.
Avoid People Who Are Sick
Another way to keep yourself from catching an illness is to keep a safe distance from people who are sick. This doesn’t mean you have to completely avoid them, since this is sometimes impossible if they’re asymptomatic or simply not staying home. Generally, it’s a good idea to keep your distance from sick people, especially if they’re coughing or sneezing. A cough or sneeze can spread germs as far as six feet away from someone, so you’ll want to be outside the “splash zone.”
Don’t feel bad about requesting proper hygiene from people you’re conversing or sharing a space with either. If they’re sick, they have a responsibility to not spread it. If that means not shaking their hand or not getting too close to them, that’s fine. Your health is more important. This also means not sharing your food, since this is an easy way to spread germs, too.
If someone’s sick, they have a responsibility to not spread it. If that means not shaking hands with them or keeping your distance, that’s fine.
If you’re healthy, the CDC does not advise that you wear a facemask to avoid coronavirus — though some states are implementing mask-wearing requirements. Generally, facemasks are too loose to prevent you from inhaling the virus. They can prevent you from spreading the illness, though. If you’re helping to care for someone who is sick, you can wear a mask; preferably a specialized mask like an N95 mask, which can block up to 95 percent of small particles.
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The news surrounding the flu and the coronavirus can certainly be scary, with words like rising death toll or pandemic circulating. If you start to feel under the weather or display symptoms of the flu or coronavirus, see your doctor immediately. Even if the symptoms are mild, it’s important to take illnesses seriously.
To combat the spread of the coronavirus and other illnesses like the flu, it’s on all of us to follow proper hygienic practices. By following these suggestions, you can greatly increase your chances of staying healthy!