What You Can Do to Prevent the Flu

By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter
By: Jessa Goddard, Medical Reporter

Knoxville (WVLT) - We have an update now on flu activity across the US and here in East Tennessee.

The majority of states report sporadic or local activity. And a scattering of states report regional activity.

But the highest number of cases, that is, widespread activity, come here in the southeast.

Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina all fall into that category.

Here in East Tennessee, we're about to enter the peak flu season. Historically, that's the end of January, beginning of February.

The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu shot and it's still not too late.

But if you haven't, here are some natural ways to prevent flu.

The flu is most commonly spread by direct contact; someone sneezes into their hand and then touches something that you later touch.

The germs can live for hours, and in some cases, weeks, making proper hand-washing your best defense.

Knox County Public Health Officer Doctor Martha Buchanan says that should include warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds.

"An estimate of about how long is 20 seconds? It's long enough to sing "Happy Birthday" two times," says Dr. Buchanan.

That being said, try not to cover your sneezes and coughs with your hands. Use a tissue or turn your head away from people.

And avoid touching your face. The flu enters your body through the eyes, nose or mouth.

Take a sauna, researchers aren't clear about the exact role they play in prevention, but the theory is, air hotter than 80 degrees is too hot for the flu virus to survive.

Conversely, central heating dries you out and makes your body more vulnerable.

"When your airways get dried out, just like your skin, they might crack or get breaks in them, even small breaks. And those small breaks are an opportunity for any virus to get in there and cause infection," explains Dr. Buchanan.

Get regular, aerobic exercise. That will increase your body's natural virus-killing cells.

Cut alcohol consumption and don't smoke.

"One, is nicotine, paralyzes the little tiny brushes called cilia that help clean our lungs of all the stuff that gets in there all the time," says Dr. Buchanan.

And eat yogurt, researchers think the bacteria it contains stimulates production of immune system substances that fight disease.

Knox county health officials say it appears to be another mild year for flu.

They're reporting 213 cases since October, compared to about 5,400 cases during the 2003-2004 season.

But we're not in the clear just yet, the flu season lasts through March.


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