Fighting the flu! How to stay healthy during cold and flu season

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- The cold and flu season is almost upon us. But there are some things you can do to stay healthy.

The flu vaccine is one of your best defenses, but that alone may not be enough to help you stay well.

“We have 26 strains of flu in Maricopa County at any given time,” says Dr. Jim Deering with John C. Lincoln Health Network.

With so many flu strains around, getting a flu shot may not help everyone fight off the flu, but Dr. Deering recommends that people still be vaccinated. “I can promise you that the majority of people who get the flu, will have a lot fewer symptoms if they had the flu shot than if they didn't," he says.

But Dr. Deering says if you are really looking to stay healthy, there is another flu-fighter that works surprisingly well: washing those hands. “It is the single best thing," he says. "You have to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds to get the maximum effect.”

That's because we can spread the virus to our nose, eyes and mouth without even noticing. “And you will be surprised how many times in a minute, in an hour, that you touch your face without thinking about it,” he says.

Another way to keep that nasty virus off your hands is to skip the handshake. “We don't shake your hand, during the season,” Dr. Deering says. “We use our elbow, and it is elbow to elbow. You try to avoid anything where the respiratory bugs can be transferred from one person to the other.“

Also, keep your germs confined. “Sneeze and or cough into your elbow. You don't cough into your hand, you don't sneeze into your hand,” Deering advises.

And if despite your best efforts you still get sick, Dr. Deering says over-the-counter medications will help. But make sure you choose the right one. A headache and fever could mean flu. A sore throat could mean cold.

And for both, you need to take a break. “If you have a child who is sick, do not send them to the daycare or back to school until they are done," he advises. "If you are an adult, don't go to work during that acute time.”