To Your Health: It’s that time of year. Cold and flu season, that is

cold2This time of year brings holiday gatherings, great food and good cheer.

For a fair number of us, it also brings sniffles, coughs, fever and body aches.

Each year, 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And some 200,000 people are hospitalized on average because of flu complications.

Unfortunately, the majority of U.S. adults don’t get the flu shot. But the number of people who are vaccinated is growing.

During the 2012-13 flu season, about 42 percent of U.S. adults were vaccinated, up about 2.7 percent from the previous season.

Meanwhile, about 57 percent of children got the flu vaccine in 2012-13, up 5.1 percent from the season before.

Getting the flu shot is your best bet for staving off the flu. But getting the vaccine doesn’t mean you can’t get sick.

You can still catch a non-flu virus (like the common cold) that has flu-like systems. There’s also a chance you could still be affected by a flu virus, depending on how much immunity your body has built up.

So in addition to getting the flu vaccine, you can take some simple precautions to cut your chances of catching something.

Here’s what the experts recommend:

Wash your hands often. Use warm water and soap, and don’t rush. Wash for about 20 seconds. And never touch your mouth, nose or eyes without washing your hands.

Disinfect surfaces. Alcohol-based cleaners or antiseptic wipes should be used to clean all the surfaces you touch daily – doorknobs, keyboards, even your phone or tablet.

Don’t share food, drinks or personal items. That means no drinking out of the milk jug or double-dipping chips. And if your significant other is sick, sleep on the couch.

Encourage your family and coworkers (politely) to cover their mouths or nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze. If there’s no time to grab a tissue, sneeze or cough into your elbow.

Get proper rest and nutrition to boost your immunity. If you’re run-down and tired, you’re more likely to get ill.

Lauren Richter, a doctor of osteopathic medicine and assistant professor of family and community medicine at the University of Maryland, says it’s this simple: if you don’t want to get sick, diligence is key.

“Do the basics – eat right, sleep right, exercise, and wash your hands,” Richter told WebMD. “I work in a pretty high-risk profession, and I rarely get sick because I do these things.”

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