More than just enjoyable activities are at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pneumonia and flu together are the sixth leading causes of death in the U.S. More than 100,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths occur each year from flu-related complications.
Here are some tips on how to stay healthy.
Make sure you're getting the right disease treated. Many illnesses can disguise themselves as flu when they're really something else, such as respiratory syncitial virus, mycoplasma pneumonia or adenovirus. Experts say 90 million Americans each year think they have the flu when they don't. Your doctor can give you a quick and painless test that can help tell your doctor if your flu-like symptoms-sudden headache, dry cough, runny nose, sore throat, aching muscles, fatigue and possible fever-is influenza. (Also, see my "Cold vs. Flu?" Comparison Chart, to help sort it out.)
Rest, fluids and good nutrition are important in the fight against the flu and other diseases that strike in cold weather.
Good hand-washing technique includes using soap-especially an anti-bacterial soap, which kills germs rather than simply washing them away-and hot water, as hot as you or your children can stand.
Taking vitamin C, unless your doctor advises you to avoid it, can reduce the risk of flu and speed recovery time. Herbs such as echinacea have also been known to be effective.
If you do come down with something, give yourself an extra day or two to recover fully. Just because you feel better doesn't necessarily mean you are better; symptoms that are diminished or gone when you're still in bed can show up again as soon as you're up and around, and pushing yourself to do too much too soon can open you up to a significant risk of reinfection.
Make sure that you do your best to get flu shots for those who are particularly at risk -- such as children under 2, elderly people, and those with severe chronic lung disease. (Note: for children under 2, be sure ask for thimerosol-free vaccines.)
Try to avoid stress, which can weaken your immune system and make you more vulnerable to all sorts of infections, including flu.