An unusual type of flu is on the rise, and kids are especially at risk. Here’s how to keep yourself and your family healthy

Flu Prevention and Remedies
Roos Koole

This year, there’s a surprise registering in the tickers at the Centers for Disease Control. Influenza Type B, which usually hits in the spring, is being reported in higher numbers than Type A, which usually hits early in the flu season. Known to infect only seals and humans, experts are unsure as to why Type B is higher this year, but the flu is hitting kids and senior citizens hard. Already this season, one child under five and four adults over 65 have died in Nevada, and a 16-year-old passed away from flu complications in Dallas.

The majority of positive flu results at public health labs across the nation, 62%, are Type B this season. This is the type of flu that disproportionately affects kids and young adults, with 46% of children age 0 to 4 years old and 60% of children and young adults testing positive for influenza B.

According to the CDC, sixteen states have logged widespread flu numbers. Of those states, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas are on the list. Southern states are particularly affected this year, with mid-Atlantic and Northeast states reporting lower numbers.

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Here are our tips for building your resistance to the flu and dodging its multiple strains this year. These are going to seem obvious at first, but there’s a lot you might not know.

Get the Flu Shot

We know, you wonder about the vaccine’s efficacy. But despite its 10 to 60% efficacy, the flu shot saves lives. Have you been dragging your feet? Next year, try to set a reminder to get the vaccine before flu season starts—but it’s never too late to get it. It covers both Type A and Type B flu strains, and is recommended for everyone older than 6 months who doesn’t have contraindications to it.

Avoid Germs

A lot of these tips are common sense: avoid touching or being near sick folks; avoid highly-trafficked areas during flu season; don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, because then you’re risking giving yourself the flu from something or someone you touched.

Avoid Spreading Germs

Cover your mouth and nose with Kleenex when you cough or sneeze, put your used tissue in the trash, and if you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands. Consider wearing a surgical mask and surgical gloves.

Sorry about this, but you’re basically the Bubble Boy for the duration of your flu—and before, because you’re even contagious before you know it. So don’t share food. Sadly, don’t kiss. Quarantine your toothbrush to its own holder or glass. Do laundry frequently. Wash and use your own dishes, choosing a specific color mug, bowl, plate, and utensils, or labeling them. Sanitize dishes in a sanitizer or dishwasher if possible. Sleep on the same side of the bed every day and use your own pillow and pillowcase to avoid infecting your partner.

Please stay home when you’re sick, if possible—your coworkers will thank you.

Clean frequently-used surfaces at home, work and school, including doorknobs, keyboards, and phones.

Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer that’s at least 60% alcohol to help prevent the spread of the flu. Do you think you already know how to wash your hands? Quiz your friends on how many seconds you should spend washing your hands (the answer: 20 seconds, or the time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice). And read up on the hand-washing basics that might seem obvious—there’s a lot you might not know, like you should wash your hands after handling pet food and treats.

Get Educated

Know who’s especially at risk, including healthcare and daycare workers, people over 65, children younger than two years old, pregnant women and women who are two weeks postnatal, American Indians and Alaska natives, people living in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. These factors, including asthma, cancer, and neurological conditions, are likely to increase your risk of serious complications from the flu.

Know what your school and workplace plans are if a flu outbreak happens, and whether they will notify you. Additionally, find out whether the school or workplace offers vaccinations.

Make sure janitors are cleaning frequently-used objects and surfaces, and that office managers are purchasing tissues, soap, paper towels, alcohol-based hand rubs, and disposable wipes and making them available to students and workers.

Take Antiviral Drugs if Prescribed

Antiviral drugs, if prescribed, can make your flu milder and shorter. Take them only if prescribed by your doctor.

Make Contingency Plans

Train others to do your work duties so that you can stay home when you are sick, and consider writing up a desk manual of instructions for them to use in your absence. If you are a full-time parent who’s fallen ill, try to have a family member or babysitter look after your child if possible.

Boost Your Immune System

Start early, before the flu season begins (usually in October), with building your immune system. Take a daily probiotic, exercise regularly, drink lots of fluids, sleep seven to nine hours a night, and add adaptogens to your daily supplements if your doctor says it’s all right.

Avoid Traveling if Possible

Test strips on luggage trays at airport security found that half had at least one respiratory disease such as the common cold or flu. If you have to travel this flu season, follow these instructions from our frequent flyers to stay healthy and minimize your risk.

Treat Yourself

Try our DIY cold and flu remedies. They’ll help soothe and destress you, and stress weakens the immune system.

Stop Smoking

Your immune system overreacts to the flu virus when you’re a smoker. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to be checked into the ICU and have longer hospital stays when they are hospitalized with the flu.