Sick Season Survival Guide

The Icky Truth: Right now, your school is a hotbed of germs and viruses, just waiting to make you miserable. But these sneaky tricks can help stop them. 

The truth is, a runny nose and a hacking cough are the least of your worries. Right now is prime time for the flu virus (aka influenza), which experts warn can spread quickly and knock you out hard. So use these tricks to beef up your immune system, avoid the surprising stuff that spreads sickness, and keep your germs contained. (You’ll thank us later—we swear.)

How the Flu Shot Works (And Why You Should Get One)
We’ve all heard of the flu shot, but many people are still afraid to get one. This video explains why the flu shot is a smart decision and how it will help prevent the flu.

LEARN TO SPOT THE SICKNESS MYTHS! 

Everyone spouts wisdom on what will keep you healthy or cure your cold. So who can you believe? We asked experts to separate the fact from the fiction. 

Exercise runs you down. Myth

Physical activity can help you deal with stress, which saps your ability to fight off illness. Scientists even theorize that panting during a workout may flush germs out of your lungs, and getting hot and sweaty can make it harder for them to multiply. Just be careful about pushing yourself too hard if you’re already feeling ill. Listen to your body!

Antibacterial soap kills germs. Myth

These soaps can’t take out cold viruses, and even worse: The more you expose illnesscausing bacteria to anti-bacterial products, the more the bacteria adapt to them. Experts warn that this can create “superbugs” that can’t be treated with antibiotics. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration recently pulled certain antibacterial soaps from the market.

OJ fights off illness. Myth

Orange juice does have vitamin C, which research suggests may help prevent colds. The problem? OJ is also loaded with added sugar! And too much of the sweet stuff can reduce your immune system’s ability to combat invaders. (A better alternative? Drink a lot of water and eat oranges!)

Chicken soup is good for a cold. Truth!

It won’t cure you, but it may improve your symptoms. Warm liquids, such as soup and tea, get the gross gunk moving and relieve congestion. Plus, if you eat the kind with veggies, you’re getting a lot of healthy nutrients!

GET AT LEAST 7 HOURS OF ZZZ'S! 

A recent study found that people who got less than six hours of sleep a night were four times as likely to get a cold as those who spent seven-plus hours in bed. So here’s a challenge: Turn off your phone and climb under the covers for at least that long. (During sleep, your body heals itself, clearing away toxins and repairing damage. How cool is that?)

AVOID THESE GERMY HOT SPOTS

Gross but true: The viruses that make you sick can live up to eight hours on a surface (the more people who touch it, the ickier it gets!). When researchers tested two Michigan schools, here’s what they found:

(LEAST GERMY TO MOST GERMY)

Toilet seat

Shocked? It may be because toilets get cleaned regularly.

Classroom computer keyboard

It can’t hurt to wash your hands immediately after using it.

Bathroom faucet handle

Tip: Cover your hand with a paper towel to turn it on/off!

Cafeteria tray

Keep food on its plate.

Water fountain spigot

Never place your lips on it. To be really safe, bring your own water bottle.

POWER THROUGH THE FLU SHOT

If you haven’t yet, talk to your doc about getting the flu vaccination, which introduces your body to what researchers think will be this season’s most common strains. (It can help you build up antibodies without making you sick!) Unfortunately, researchers recently discovered that the nasal spray form of the vaccine may be less effective, so this season, you need to get the shot. Scared of needles? Ask a family member to distract you, or try this trick if you’re there alone: As you’re about to get the shot, cough. Research shows it may help you feel less pain.

COVER YOUR MOUTH, PLEASE...

...when you cough or sneeze! A study found that those tiny particles of germ-carrying spit can travel 200 times farther than previously imagined by forming little clouds that linger in the air. (GROSS!) 

DROP THESE HABITS

Your hands are one of the germiest parts of your body (they touch everything!), and germs can get in through any body opening. So try not to bite your nails or rub your eyes!

KNOW WHEN TO STAY HOME.

  • FEVER THAT’S 100.4 DEGREES OR HIGHER: You can go back once you’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.
  • COUGHING UP MUCUS
  • ACHY, FULL-BODY EXHAUSTION: It means your immune system is working hard to battle a bug.
  • SKIN RASH: It could be nothing, but you should get your doc to take a look. 
  • THROWING UP OR HAVING DIARRHEA

“The flu almost killed me.”—Logan Hile, 15, PA

"Its crazy: One minute I was at baseball practice, and the next, I was home with the worst nausea and body aches of my life. The next day, I felt so weak and out of breath that I went to the hospital, where I tested positive for influenza. My doctors aren’t sure why, but it put so much stress on my body that I developed kidney failure and heart failure. I was hooked up to ventilators for 45 days before I kicked the virus. I had no idea how dangerous the flu could be, but now I know better."

POP QUIZ

What’s the best way to fight off germs?

A) Soap and water

B) Hand sanitizer

Answer: A. Scrubbing for 20 seconds (as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” in your head!) is better—you’ll loosen germs from your skin and rinse them away. What if a bathroom break just isn’t in the cards? A dime-sized blob of alcohol-based hand sanitizer can kill some—though not all—of the germs hanging out on your hands.

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