Tips for Steering Clear of Flu

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FRIDAY, Jan. 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- With flu now widespread across the United States, experts recommend you take several steps to reduce your risk.

Getting a flu shot is crucial, said Dr. Saul Hymes, assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children's Hospital in Stony Brook, N.Y.

"It's still not too late," he said in a hospital news release. "Even though one of the predominant strains this year, H3N2, has drifted slightly and is less well covered by the vaccine, there are still three other flu strains out there covered by the vaccine, and the vaccine will likely still offer some protection against H3N2 as well."

Dr. Susan Donelan, medical director of health care epidemiology at Stony Brook, said that a variety of flu strains circulate during most flu seasons.

"A mismatch of the current strain does not predict a mismatch of circulating strains later in the season," she explained. "That is what happened in the 2013-2014 season -- two different influenza A [viruses] and one influenza B 'took turns' being the predominant strain."

Flu usually peaks between December and February in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far this season, 26 children have died from flu, and flu activity was reported widespread in 46 states, the CDC said Friday.

If you think you're getting the flu, see your doctor to get an antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza. These can help reduce flu severity and the length of time you're sick, the experts said.

If you do get the flu, stay home. Drink lots of fluids, rest and treat your fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen, Hymes said.

If you have to be around people who have the flu, wash your hands often and well. Ask that "high-touch" surfaces in the workplace and at school -- such as doorknobs, telephones and elevator buttons -- be cleaned more often.

You can also protect yourself by eating a healthful diet, drinking plenty of water or other fluids, and getting sufficient sleep.

But don't rush out to buy over-the-counter "natural" remedies. There is no evidence that homeopathic or herbal products, vitamin C or zinc help protect against the flu, the doctors said.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about flu prevention.