Do You Know How to Outsmart Viruses?

Do You Know How to Outsmart Viruses?

Your chances of catching a viral illness are higher at certain times of year: Back to school. When temperatures drop and people spend more time indoors. Before the fall and winter holidays. At the start of the new year.

Now’s the time to find the best ways to protect you and your family from viruses like colds, flu, COVID-19 and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus). leaving site icon Viruses can cause varying degrees of illness, from minor to very severe. While many people’s bodies can fight off most viral illness, some are more vulnerable. Children and older adults can get very sick or even die from some viruses. That’s why it’s important for you and your family to have a plan.

A virus spreads quickly if it is an airborne virus like COVID-19, RSV, cold or flu. That means it spreads when people who are sick with the virus don’t cover their face when they’re around others.

The virus can be suspended in the air long enough to reach others, even if they aren’t standing close. Sometimes it can also be spread when the virus is on an infected person’s hands or something they have touched.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family.

Get Vaccinated

Get your flu shot. Like colds, flu is contagious and is caused by a virus. Unlike colds, you can get a shot to help protect yourself and others from flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people who are six months or older should get a yearly flu shotleaving site icon 

The flu can be spread before any symptoms appear. This is why others can give you the flu even before they know they have it. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the shot to protect against flu virus infection. So get it as soon as possible.

And it’s important to stay up to date on your COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. leaving site icon The CDC says the shots are a safe, effective way to protect yourself from COVID-19. The vaccine and boosters are recommended for most people who are six months old or older.

Avoid Germs

Taking a few common steps can help ward off illness. Remember to:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • When you don’t have soap and water handy, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • When you cough, cover both your mouth and nose with a tissue or your shirt. Show kids how to bend their arm in front of their face and cough into the crook of their elbow.
  • After you use a tissue, throw it in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands when you're out in public.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. 
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are touched a lot. That includes toys, door handles, faucets and TV remotes.
  • Don’t share drinks or eating utensils when you're away from home.

Each of these steps help reduce your risk of getting and spreading infectious diseases. But there’s no one way to prevent disease. That’s why it’s important to have many good habits for reducing your risk, says the Cleveland Clinicleaving site icon

It’s especially important for people at higher risk of infectious disease. They include:

  • Those with compromised immune systems, like those receiving cancer treatments, living with HIV or taking certain medicines
  • Young children
  • Women who are pregnant
  • Adults over 60
  • People who are not vaccinated against common infectious diseases
  • Health care workers

Getting sick isn’t fun for anyone, and it can be dangerous. But you can lower your risk significantly by actively protecting yourself and your family.

Not Sure What You Have?

If you have sniffles, sneezes, coughing or sore throat, it can be hard to tell if your symptoms are from allergies, a cold, flu or COVID-19. Get tips on how to tell the difference.

Sources: Infectious Diseases, leaving site icon Cleveland Clinic, 2022; Similarities and Differences between Flu and COVID-19, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2022; Key Facts About Influenza (Flu), leaving site icon CDC, 2022; Vaccines for COVID-19, leaving site icon CDC, 2023; Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infection (RSV), leaving site icon CDC, 2022

Originally published 10/24/2022; Revised 2023