How to Protect Yourself from Cold and Flu in 2017

In 2017, Live Science is bringing our readers a monthly series on personal health goals. We’ll give you tips and tricks for reaching those goals, based on the advice we’ve gathered from the countless health experts we’ve interviewed. Each month, we’ll focus on a different goal, and the goal for September is “avoiding colds and flu.” Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to connect with other readers who are working toward these goals.

When the weather starts to cool down and you feel a nip in the air, it means that cold and flu season are just around the corner. Although there is no sure-fire way to avoid catching a cold or the flu, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of these illnesses this fall and winter. On this page, we’ve rounded up the most important information from Live Science on how to help prevent cold and flu, and what to do if you get sick.

Cold and flu infections both cause similar symptoms, and they are both more common in the winter months compared to other times of the year. But these illnesses have important differences. For example:

  • Only influenza viruses cause the flu, while many different viruses can cause colds.
  • There is a vaccine to prevent the flu, while there is no vaccine to prevent the common cold.
  • Adults have an average of two to three colds a year, but only get the flu about twice a decade. Kids get colds and the flu more frequently.

Still, when you come down with the winter sniffles, you may be wondering — is this the flu, or a really bad cold? It may be hard to tell the difference based on symptoms alone, but there are some clues. Here are some ways you may be able to tell if you have a cold or the flu

According to the CDC, getting an annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older.

Check out Live Science’s comprehensive flu shot page to learn about the types of vaccines, side effects and more.

Even more flu shot facts:

  • When’s the Best Time to Get the Flu Vaccine?
  • ‘Microneedle’ Patch Promises Painless Flu Vaccine
  • Flu Vaccine and Narcolepsy: New Findings May Explain Link
  • Flu Shots Keep Older People Out of the Hospital
  • 6 Flu Vaccine Myths

Getting a flu shot may reduce your risk of catching the flu, but it doesn’t protect you from colds. Still, there are things you can do that may lower your risk of catching colds, and provide additional protection from the flu. Here are some cold and flu prevention tips:

  1. Wash your hands often. Use soap and water, and scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. You’d be surprised at how many people don’t wash their hands properly.
  2. If soap and water aren’t available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizerthat contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
  3. Get enough sleep. Studies have found that not getting enough sleep is linked with an increased risk of catching a cold or the flu.
  4. Exercise regularly. Working out on a regular basis may lower your risk of catching a cold, or lower your duration of cold symptoms, according to a 2010 study.
  5. Stand back: Studies have found that flu virus particles exhaled by a sick person travel at least six feet.
  6. Consider wearing a mask. If you’re taking care of a person sick with a cold or the flu, wearing a surgical mask may reduce your risk of catching the illness.