Your Ultimate Guide to What Works (and Doesn’t Work) to Prevent Flu

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With so many ways to prevent the coughs and chills, which remedies are worth the bother? From chicken soup to garlic, here are the best — and worst — ways to keep yourself well this season.

To protect yourself from the flu, don’t forget to —
Get your flu shot: Duh. This is the easiest way to keep yourself protected from common flu strains, and you have a variety of choices this season, from sprays to smaller needles to a first-time ever shot that protects against four strains of influenza. So there’s no excuse; there’s a vaccine for everyone.

Get in shape: The healthier you are during flu season, the less likely you are to succumb to a bad case of the sniffles. The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting enough sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating healthy food to keep your immune system primed to fend off the flu virus. Keep your house healthy too by wiping down surfaces and disinfecting counter tops in germ gathering places like the bathroom and kitchen.

Keep your hands clean: Again, it’s pretty obvious, but only 5% of people wash their hands correctly according to a June study. The correct way to wash your hands is under warm or cold running water. After you add soap, rub the suds into a lather, and scrub all parts of your hands and nails. This process should take about 20 seconds–as long as it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice. Men are the worst offenders; only 50% of males use the soap dispenser to wash their hands after using public restrooms, according to a recent study, while 70% of women did.

Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth: Do not rub your eyes! Your eyes, like other openings in the body, can be a conduit for disease-causing bugs like flu viruses that you pick up from contaminated surfaces. Rubbing your eyes during flu season is like inviting the influenza bugs in.

But don’t expect these strategies to keep you healthy:

Orange juice and vitamin C: Sure, the warmth of chicken soup feels good on a sore throat, but it’s not really a treatment or a reliable way to ward off flu. The same is true for vitamin C supplements and orange juice; studies don’t consistently show that they can prevent or treat flu symptoms. But it doesn’t hurt to get enough vitamin C in your daily diet from natural foods, before you get sick.
Onions: You may have heard that putting an onion near your bed can prevent the flu because onions absorb bacteria. But that’s just a myth. Onions are healthy for you, but they don’t suck viruses out of the air.

If you do get sick, these remedies may help to ease your symptoms:
Spice things up: For some temporary soothing, add extra garlic and ginger to your meals or tea. Both can help with congestion, and ginger can sometimes slow down mucus production.

Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze. And use your elbow: Okay, so this won’t shave days off your current flu experience, but the idea is to pay it forward so your next bout won’t be so bad. If you want others to cover themselves with a tissue or cough into their elbow so they don’t make you sick, you should get into the habit so others will too. Plus, sneezing into your hand is not only gross, it actually encourages the spread of nasty illnesses, since your hands touch door handles and money, which many, many other hands handle as well. 
Hop in a hot shower: A warm shower can act like a steamy sauna and help clear congested sinuses. You may feel blocked up again later, but at least it provides some temporary relief.

Try chocolate: There’s not a lot of science to back it up, but chocolate may help to ease coughs. It contains theobromine, which can act as a cough suppressant.

Visit your drugs store for flu medications: Drugs like Tamiflu can sometimes protect you from getting sick, but it’s not a substitute for the flu vaccine. Other prescription or over the counter drugs can reduce the amount of time that you feel sick, if you start the medications early enough after infection. Ask your doctor about which options might work best for you.

When you feel sick, just stay home: Flu season is no time to play the tough guy. By staying home, you won’t infect others, and you will get better faster. If you’re feeling under the weather, don’t push yourself–it will only make it worse.

These remedies, however, probably won’t make you feel better —

Booze: Sure, a hot toddy is nice on the throat, but whisky isn’t going to cure any flu symptoms.

Echinacea: Some claim the herb has healing benefits, mostly to relieve the common cold. But there are very few studies to actually back this up.

Chicken soup: Sure, the warmth of chicken soup can soothe a scratchy throat, but there’s no evidence that there is anything therapeutic about soup — even if mom makes it — that will cure you of your stuffy and achy symptoms.