Someone close to you is probably suffering from the flu -- a loved one, a co-worker, or the guy who was breathing on you on the train this morning. It's been an early, and especially nasty, start to this year's flu season.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the illness has arrived five weeks early, sweeping across 41 states. In Illinois, the flu has killed six people.
Hospitals nationwide are swamped with patients. The CDC says the percentage of people seeing their doctors for flu-like symptoms has doubled to 5.6, from 2.8 percent last month.
For many professionals, falling ill simply isn't an option. As you recover in bed, work piles up and emails continue to pour in.
Bottom line: If you haven't gotten the flu, do everything you can to avoid it.
Dr. David Scheiner, an internist in Chicago Hyde Park's neighborhood, kept President Obama healthy for 22 years. Here, the veteran physician offers tips for avoiding the flu:
1. Get a flu shot. This is a no-brainer, Scheiner says. He advises -- even badgers -- all of his patients to get the shot (especially if they have conditions such as diabetes, emphysema, and so on). If you haven't yet, go get one now--the flu virus lingers on into May, Scheiner says. Although the shot is not 100 percent effective, it does protect about 70 percent of those who receive it. For those who still fall ill, the shot makes the flu much milder, he says.
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2. Avoid crowds. Being in large crowds increases the likelihood you'll contract the flu virus. If possible, consider alternative transportation to work instead of riding the train or bus. Also, take a rain check for that premiere of “Zero Dark Thirty” this weekend, or any movie for that matter.
3. Wash your hands. Your office is a filthy place. One study said the average desk harbors 400 times more germs than a toilet seat. Worse yet, only about 15 percent of officer workers clean their workspace on a weekly basis.
Washing your hands thoroughly, especially after you've come in contact with someone who has the flu, is paramount. Make sure you're washing for at least 20 seconds (or about the length of the song “Happy Birthday”). If you can't wash thoroughly, opt for hand sanitizer, Scheiner says. In fact, carry it with you.
4. Limit physical contact. Should someone close to you, such as a spouse or close co-worker, get the flu--a person with whom you must interact on a regular basis -- avoid touching that person as much as you can, advises Scheiner.
If the boss, who refuses to go home sick, wants to give you a high-five for your great work, politely decline or make it a fist bump. Then go wash your fist.
5. Reconsider visiting the doctor. If you think you have the flu, but you're not quite sure, don't automatically visit the doctor. Call instead. Otherwise, you risk coming in contact with germs at the doctor's office, or spreading them to others. (Editor's note: Anytime you go to a doctor's office, bring your own reading material. Sick people handle those magazines.)
If you fall ill, Scheiner advises drinking plenty of fluids, getting lots of rest, taking acetaminophen for fever and ibuprofen for the aches and pains, and avoid going outside in the cold. Oh, and do not go into the office and infect everyone else.
With any luck, you'll be feeling better within a few days.