person receiving flu shot

Cold and flu season is just around the corner--are you and your family prepared? While getting a cold is usually just a minor inconvenience, catching the flu can be more serious. By taking some basic steps, you can help protect yourself and your family.

Preventive Measures

The common cold, which is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, is usually harmless but headache-producing--quite literally. According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 100 different viruses can cause a cold, making prevention key.

To avoid getting stuck with a week or two of misery, which may include everything from a runny nose and itchy sore throat to cough, congestion, and mild fever, try some preventive steps leading up to cold and flu season:

  • Gather supplies. While you're feeling healthy, stock up on a few essentials in case you do get a cold, such as Kleenex, plenty of fluids, cough drops, and vitamin C, which the National Institutes of Health state may help reduce the duration of a cold.
  • Take precautions. Regularly wash your hands, and consider using a hand sanitizer. Help children in your household understand the importance of hand washing's role in slowing the spread of cold viruses.
  • Keep surfaces clean. Make extra efforts to keep countertops in the kitchen and bathroom clean by wiping them off frequently.
  • Avoid sharing. Cold germs can spread by using shared utensils, towels, or other objects. Make sure each family member uses their own drinking glasses and utensils.

The flu can be more dangerous than a cold. When this viral infection attacks your lungs, nose, and throat, the resulting complications can be deadly--especially for children, seniors, and pregnant women. The Mayo Clinic counts these among the best flu defenses:

  • Get vaccinated. While there's no vaccine for the common cold, there is a seasonal vaccine available every year for the flu. You should strongly consider getting the flu vaccine, and having eligible family members be vaccinated too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone over six months old should plan to receive the flu vaccine early in the flu season, immediately after it becomes available. The CDC emphasizes that most cases of the flu occur starting in October. In recent seasons, the highest number of infections have taken place in January and February. Prompt vaccination in the fall months can help protect your family if flu season comes early, though getting vaccinated in the winter months, or even spring, can still be beneficial.
  • Stay away from crowds. During the peak months of flu season in fall and winter, avoiding crowds can make a difference. Since flu spreads more easily where people gather, you can decrease your chance of getting infected by staying home when you can.
  • Watch for coughs and sneezes. The flu spreads through droplets that enter the air when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes. Be on the lookout for others with symptoms, and avoid them. If someone in your household is coughing or sneezing, encourage them to cover their mouth.

HealthAhead Hint: Preparedness Pays

Be aware of the upcoming cold and flu season, and take basic steps to keep yourself, and your family, healthy. There's no cure for a cold or the flu--fluids and bed rest are often the best ways to cope if you get sick. Better yet, take as many precautions as you can to avoid sickness: Stock up on hand sanitizer and get the flu vaccine. Dodging colds and the flu will keep you happier, and healthier, all season long.