4 ways to protect yourself and those you love during the fall and winter

After what seemed like an endless summer in Alabama, there have been some signs that cooler days are ahead. This is a good time to look at how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from illnesses and conditions that usually show up during the fall and winter. Although viruses and bacterial infections can happen at any time, people are more vulnerable to getting them in the cooler months. Research has shown our bodies may be more vulnerable to infection during the fall and winter. We also spend more time indoors with others who may spread their germs. Here are a few tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe:

Get your shots. To protect against flu and its potentially serious complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year by the end of October. However, latecomers can still reap the benefits and can experience greater immunity as the season wears on. A flu shot can prevent or significantly reduce the duration and severity of an influenza infection.

In addition to the flu shot, you may want to consider a vaccination for pneumococcal disease. This is an infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. These bacteria can cause many types of illnesses, including pneumonia, ear infections and sinus infections. Pneumococcus bacteria are spread through coughing, sneezing and close contact with an infected person. Children younger than 2, people with weakened immune systems and people 65 and older have an increased risk of getting pneumococcal disease.

Practice hand hygiene. Wash your hands often and encourage your loved ones to do the same. Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. When your hands are not visibly dirty or greasy, you may also use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. According to the CDC, these are some important times to wash your hands:

  • Before, during, and after preparing food
  • Before eating food
  • Before and after caring for someone who is sick with vomiting or diarrhea
  • Before and after treating a cut or wound
  • After using the toilet
  • After changing diapers or cleaning up a child who has used the toilet
  • After blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing
  • After touching an animal, animal feed or animal waste
  • After handling pet food or pet treats
  • After touching garbage

Limit infection. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you or a loved one may become ill. In those cases, the best thing to do is try to limit others from becoming infected. When you’re sick, be sure to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue in the trash. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Remember to wash your hands or apply hand sanitizer after coughing and sneezing. If you care for young children or grandchildren, teach them to do the same. In your home, disinfect frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as toys and doorknobs. When you have an infection, it is also best to avoid close contact with others such as hugging, kissing and shaking hands. If you have friends or loved ones in the nursing home or hospital, try to avoid visiting while you have the flu or flu-like symptoms.

Take care of yourself. Make sure you and your loved ones are ready to face cold and flu season by practicing good habits all year round. Eat a healthy and balanced diet, get adequate rest, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day five times a week, limit stress, dress appropriately for the weather and visit your healthcare provider regularly.