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This is flu season. By many  accounts, this is the worst one yet. It seems everyone is sneezing and coughing around you. Respiratory illnesses, whether the common cold or influenza (“the flu”), are caused by viruses  which are spread from person to person by coughing or sneezing  or unclean hands.

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Both colds and flu are caused by viral infections. Colds usually involve a stuffy or runny nose, scratchy or sore throat, mild cough and sometimes a fever. Cold symptoms are less intense than flu, and symptoms tend to resolve faster than flu.

Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. A quick rinse won’t do the trick. To kill germs, communicative disease experts recommend washing with soap for 15 to 30 seconds-about as long as it takes to hum a rollicking verse of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”

Keep your hands away from your face to reduce the chance of delivering viruses directly to your eyes or nose. One study found that people typically touched their face fifteen times in an hour.

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Make certain you’re getting your RDA for vitamin E and other antioxidants including A, C and B-complex vitamins and minerals. These have properties that enhance immune response. Studies on older mice have shown that those with reduced levels of vitamin E were more susceptible to flu infection.

Get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Chronic sleep deprivation can reduce your immune response.

Flu shots are recommended for individuals who are at higher risk of developing complications from the flu. This includes people over the age of 65, diabetics, asthmatics, individuals with chronic heart conditions, and also pregnant women. In addition, flu shots are recommended for all health care workers and for all individuals who have close contact with sick or elderly persons.

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