People looking for ways to protect themselves from the flu should understand what works and what doesn't, with at least six more weeks of flu season to go, health officials say.
Vancouver pharmacist Anita Fong says this season, more people seem to be buying surgical masks, but points out to customers that they're protecting others with such devices, not themselves.
"Especially if they're going to visit somebody in a care home or a hospital, they're wearing the mask to prevent transmission to people who may be more susceptible to getting sick," Fong says.
But she adds that it would not reduce the wearer's own risk of getting sick.
The Fraser Health Authority's Dr. Paul Van Buynder agrees..
"If you're wearing a mask in the general population, then you'll still come in contact with influenza on surfaces, in the air," Buynder says..
Buynder says the best thing you can do to try to keep illness-free is to get a flu shot and wash your hands frequently.
ALSO: The Huffington Post Healthy Living team spoke to Pritish Tosh, M.D., an assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic's Division of Infectious Diseases, to find out the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to flu prevention. Here's what not to do.
Assuming The Vaccine Is All You Need
While the flu shot is generally considered your best line of defense, it's not <em>guaranteed</em> protection. "The current influenza vaccine is good, but not perfect," says Tosh. Think of the flu shot like a seatbelt, he says. Vaccinating doesn't mean you <em>can't</em> get the flu, but the outcome will likely be better if you do. "It is possible people who have been vaccinated and get influenza will have less severe disease," says Tosh, so there's no excuse to skip the shot. But you should also take other measures to make sure you <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/cold-flu-prevention-natural-immune-boosters_n_2474430.html">stay healthy this season</a>, like getting adequate sleep, maintaining a regular exercise routine, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth and drinking lots of water.
Covering Your Sneeze With Your Hands
Sure, it's better than spraying those germs directly into the air above your neighbor's cubicle. But when you sneeze into your hands, chances are you then grab a doorknob or a shared phone or touch a keyboard or shake a coworker's hand -- and pass along whatever bug you're hosting. About a decade ago, public health experts started teaching a a new-and-improved version of cough and sneeze etiquette in schools, says Tosh, namely to cover up with a tissue (and dispose of it promptly), instead of using your hands. When a tissue is out of reach, <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/covercough.htm">go for the crook of your elbow, instead</a>. Even <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG4hX8TEkAA">Elmo knows</a>!
Washing Your Hands In A Hurry
You already know that hand washing is one of your <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/cold-flu-prevention-natural-immune-boosters_n_2474430.html#slide=1984564">best natural defenses against the flu</a> and germs in general. But too many people still aren't scrubbing up to snuff. <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/">Healthy hand washing</a> includes lathering up on all sides, between the fingers and under your nails for at least 20 seconds, or about the time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice, according to the CDC's recommendations.
Swearing By Antibacterial Soap
Despite the fact that patients keep requesting antibiotics for their symptoms, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/11/common-flu-myths-busted_n_2451441.html#slide=1968603">colds and flu are spread by <em>viruses</em></a>. And while it's crucial to keep hands clean, expecting an antibacterial soap to protect you is a big mistake. Not only will those suds not prevent you from catching the flu, they may leave "a larger proportion of <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/30/health/30well.html">resistant bacteria</a> behind," according to the New York TImes. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers still make the grade, since they, like regular soap, kill off bacteria more randomly.
Pretending You Aren't Sick
Ignoring that nagging cough or fevery feeling and still going to work or school is a great way to make yourself -- and the people around you -- sicker. You wouldn't want to work in close proximity with someone who has the flu, so don't impose that on your co-workers or classmates. (Not to mention that you're probably <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/cold-flu-season-sick-work_n_2124292.html">not doing your best work if you're really feeling lousy</a>.) So when are you allowed back? "If it sounds like they have influenza, people should stay at home until they're no longer having fevers for at least 24 hours," says Tosh.
Relying On Vitamin C
While there's been little research proving that the famed cold-buster can actually prevent you from getting sick, the idea that vitamin C will keep you healthy still lingers. A 2007 review found that the average person <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070718002136.htm">isn't benefitted all that much by a daily vitamin C supplement</a> (although it did protect those under extreme physical stress, like marathon runners). However, it's still an <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/01/14/do-vitamins-c-and-d-prevent-flu/">important nutrient for overall health</a>. Getting your daily dose from a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/27/vitamin-c-foods_n_1457397.html">variety of fruits and veggies</a> is still a good idea, even if it won't necessarily keep the sniffles away. If you're still not convinced to give up your C supplement, at the very least, taking it shouldn't hurt you. "It's certainly okay if you want to take some vitamins," says Tosh, "but it should not be done instead of taking extra fluids and rest."
Guzzling Orange Juice
You're probably reaching for that OJ for its famed vitamin C, which, you now know, may not be the solution you're hoping for. And while you <em>do</em> want to increase fluid intake to both ward off and recover faster from the flu, juice comes with a lot of empty calories. In fact, too much extra sugar can actually <a href="http://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/10-immune-system-busters-boosters">inhibit the immune system</a>, WebMD reported.
Headlines like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/09/flu-outbreak-in-2013-earliest-worst-decade-18-children-dead_n_2440695.html">"Worst Flu Outbreak In A Decade"</a> instill real fear in us. But most otherwise-healthy people will recover just fine from the flu with plenty of rest, fluids and good nutrition, says Tosh. Panic and anxiety won't do anything to keep you healthy; getting vaccinated, drinking extra fluids and listening to your body will. "Rather than panicking, people should focus on what they can do," he says.
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