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10 Steps to Outsmarting Cold and Flu Season

They’re back! Cold and influenza viruses are invading Canadian homes, schools, and offices, but did you know that you could steer clear of becoming ill this season? Here are 10 expert tips for outsmarting colds and flu.

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Eat Healthy

Following Canada’s Food Guide and enjoying healthy portions of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, grains and milk products can help keep your immune system operating at its optimum ability. Dr. Carol McConnery, a medical consultant at the Outaouais Public Health Department in Gatineau, Québec, says that Canadians should get their nutrition from whole foods instead of supplements. “A lot of people take zinc, magnesium, Echinacea, or vitamin C, but the scientific evidence hasn’t been conclusive that they prevent colds,” she says.

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Keep Hands Clean

According to the Mayo Clinic, cold and flu viruses can live on door handles, elevator buttons, shopping carts, and other high-touch public places for a time period ranging from a few minutes to 48 hours. One touch, and these hardy viruses are hitching a ride on your hands. The best way to avoid getting sick, and stop the spread of illness to others is to wash your hands with warm water, and soap on a regular basis. “Eighty percent of all infectious transmissions are through the hands,” says Jason Tetro, a Toronto-based microbiologist, and author of the book ‘The Germ Code’ (Random House/Doubleday Canada). Tetro recommends lathering and rubbing your hands with soap for 15 seconds – the same amount of time it would take you to recite ‘Happy Birthday’ twice – to remove and kill any lurking germs and viruses.

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Use Alcohol-Based Sanitizers

Can’t find a restroom to wash your hands? Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are your best back-up plan. “Alcohol is a known anti-microbial and it disrupts the biology of the virus so it cannot infect you,” says Tetro. Choose a sanitizing gel, or a wipe that contains 62 to 70 percent ethanol, and use the product in a quantity that will keep your hands wet for at least 15 seconds. “If you can cover your hands and make them nice and wet, it will take 15 to 20 seconds to dry off and that’s enough time to kill off the majority of cold and flu viruses,” says Tetro.

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Stay Away

“If someone is sick, avoid them until they’re better,” says Tetro. It’s also a good idea not to share items such as drinking glasses, eating utensils and towels that the ill person has been using, and avoid handshakes and kissing until the person’s cold or flu subsides.

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If you want to avoid the sniffles, it’s time to put those exercise excuses to rest. “There are many studies showing that exercise helps strengthen the immune system, and makes your body more resilient,” says Dr. McConnery. Just be careful to find the right exercise balance. You could weaken your immune system if you workout too hard or too often. “People who over train and are always tired, can get sick, so find the middle ground where your training isn’t excessive, but just enough,” she says.

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Roll Up Your Sleeve

Every year, 20,000 Canadians are hospitalized with influenza-related complications. Skip the aches, pains and a potential ER visit by rolling up your shirtsleeve. “Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot,” says Dr. McConnery. It’s also imperative that children, pregnant women, seniors and individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes, immune system suppression, or heart disease are protected by the flu shot because they’re at a higher risk for influenza-caused complications like pneumonia.
People often wrongly assume that the immunization can spark the illness. “The flu shot isn’t a live vaccine, so it can’t give you the flu,” says Dr. McConnery.
Shoppers Drug Mart locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia are offering flu shots this autumn. Check with your Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist for availability dates, and more information.

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Use Disinfecting Products

Have a sick family member in your household? Wage war against the spread of cold or flu viruses by using disinfecting wipes in your cleaning routine. “Ideally when the infectious person touches something in the house, it should be cleaned. Try to do it at least once or twice a day,” says Tetro.

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Get Proper Shut-Eye

Here’s another reason to snuggle under your duvet. A good night’s slumber will help your immune system defend itself against cold and flu viruses. “Adults should get about 7 to 8 hours of consecutive sleep,” says Dr. McConnery.

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Don’t Smoke

Smokers are more likely to catch a cold than non-smokers. “The respiratory tract of smokers is already irritated, so they’re more at risk for not only catching a cold, but also developing complications such as bacterial pneumonia, tonsillitis and sinus infections,” says Dr. McConnery. If you want to lower your chances of feeling under the weather, now is the time to kick the cigarette habit.

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Don’t Touch

When cold and flu season hits, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth – they’re easy entry points for viruses. “People tend to touch their face about 15 times every hour. If you’re not using hand sanitizer to minimize the virus, or you’re not washing your hands to completely eliminate the virus, then every time you’re touching your nose, eyes or mouth, you are exposing yourself and potentially leading to infection,” says Tetro.