Colds and the flu make millions of people miserable every winter. Between 5 and 20 percent of all Americans come down with the flu every year, contributing to an average of 200,000 hospital visits. Depending on the severity of the flu outbreak, between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from flu-related causes every year in the U.S. During the 2013-2014 flu season, more than 35 million people in the U.S. suffered from the flu.

Cold and flu activity typically peaks in January and February because people are spending more time indoors, putting them in closer contact with other people. Recognizing the symptoms and taking preventative measures can keep you and your family from spending flu season in misery this year:


The common cold is usually accompanied by a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. Symptoms come on gradually and spread easily through contact with infected mucus.

The flu is accompanied by fever, headache, chills, a dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and body aches. Nausea and vomiting are also common among younger children with the flu. The symptoms come on much more quickly and last longer than symptoms of the common cold. The flu virus spreads through droplets released when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks, and you can also contract it by touching a surface or object with the flu virus on it.


Being proactive is key to staying safe from the cold and flu this winter. Take the following steps to guard yourself against sickness:


  • Get your flu shot. The flu vaccination is highly recommended for anyone 6 months of age or older. Getting your flu shot by October every year will give you the best chance of avoiding the flu, but getting your flu shot up through January can still offer some type of protection. It is important to get your vaccination every year because the flu viruses are constantly changing, meaning last year’s vaccination may not do you any good. It is also important to get an annual shot because your immune protection from the vaccine will decline over time. It is particularly important for at-risk groups to get their annual flu vaccine, such as children under 5 years old, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions, and the elderly.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Stay away from sick people. Colds and the flu spread easily in groups of people, so stay away from people you know are sick. Also, keep infants away from crowds to avoid potential contamination with the flu virus or the common cold.
  • Practice healthy habits. Doing simple things can work wonders to bolster your immune system and prevent contraction of the flu or cold. Eat a good diet, get enough sleep at night, exercise, and keep your stress in check the best that you can.