"The flu season is long, just like a Canadian winter," says Dr. Vincent Lam, who co-authored the book The Flu Pandemic and You with Dr. Colin Lee. "The flu season can last from October to April," he adds. "We are most at risk around the peak of the season, which usually happens in January."
We expect an annual bout of the flu, but is a flu pandemic imminent?
"I think the predictions are difficult," cautions Dr. Lee. "The people who are predicting that we are overdue for one are basing it on the fact that if you look at the 20th century, there were three influenza pandemics (1918, 1957 and 1968). He continues, "if we take the average length of time between pandemics in the 20th century we are overdue for one. However, that is really the only criteria that people are using. What we're saying is that a pandemic is highly unpredictable."
But the flu, even if it's just the usual annual outbreak, is something everyone wants to avoid. Below, find some tips to keep yourself as safe as possible from this year's flu outbreak.
4 flu-busting tips
1. If you're sick, stay home
"There's a growing trend of presenteeism in our society," says family physician Dr. Iris Greenwald. "People feel the need to go to work despite being sick, and sometimes send their children to school when they're ill. Staying home is very important to prevent this cycle of illness."
According to a recent poll, 80 per cent of Canadians admitted to going to work when they were sick. When a flu ripples through the office, it ends up affecting productivity as a whole.
2. Stay healthy
A healthy lifestyle can go a long way to protecting you against the flu. Drink lots of water, eat a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep and enough exercise to increase your body's chances of fighting off the flu.
3. Don't spread the germs
When you sneeze or cough, either cover your mouth with a tissue and then throw the tissue away, or sneeze or cough into the crease of your elbow. Sneezing or coughing directly into your hand may leave behind germs that are then easily transmissible.
4. Wash your hands
"The number one way to decrease transmission is really good hand hygiene," says Dr. Greenwald. "If you touch a contaminated surface and then touch your face, that's basically how the bacteria and viruses get into your system." On average, people touch their face about six times an hour, so it's important to wash your hands thoroughly and often.
Page 1 of 2 – The experts dish on how to get your kids to wash their hands properly on page 2.
Get your kids to wash up
Kids aren't always as conscious of hygiene as we would like them to be. As a physician and mother of three youngsters herself, Dr. Greenwald offers up practical tips on helping your kids.
1. Make it fun
Turn hand-washing into a game by singing "Happy Birthday" (or some other favourite tune) as you wash your hands. Singing "Happy Birthday" twice is a reasonable amount of time to spend on proper hand-washing.
2. Use fun soap
There are plenty of colourful, great-smelling and interesting options on the soap market. Encourage your kids to pick their own favourite shapes, colours and smells. Many children love foaming soaps, but make sure they're scrubbing up as well when they use foam as when they use soap cakes.
3. Use hand sanitizer
No soap? No problem! Hand sanitizer comes in many sizes now, and there's no reason a small purse-sized sanitizer can't travel to school in a backpack. "I had to send a bottle to school with each child this year," says Dr. Greenwald. "If you use sanitizer, make sure to use one with at least 60 per cent alcohol concentration."
Soap or sanitizer should be used before snack time and lunchtime especially, as these are times when you know their hands are going to come into contact with their mouths.
4. Lead by example.
If your kids see you practicing good hand hygiene, it's more likely they'll do the same.
It's impossible to keep yourself completely safe from the flu, but these common-sense tips will go a long way toward keeping you healthy and flu-free!
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