The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get a flu shot every year.

In addition, good health habits, like covering your cough and washing your hands often, can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses.

These six tips remind you how to protect yourself and others from influenza.

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance to protect others from getting sick, too.
  • Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This helps prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like RSV, whooping cough and SARS, are spread by coughing, sneezing or unclean hands.
  • Washing your hands often helps protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when you touch something that is contaminated with germs and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, like phones, water faucets, refrigerator handles and door knobs, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

It’s worth repeating. Influenza is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. It attacks the nose, throat and lungs. Illness is usually mild or moderate, not requiring hospitalization. However, at times flu can be severe, even leading to death.

It is not the stomach flu. Flu symptoms include fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness and body aches. Symptoms usually begin suddenly and might be severe enough to stop your daily activities.

Colds are generally less serious than the flu. With a cold, you're more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, while the flu causes body aches, fever and extreme tiredness.

A person with a cold can usually keep up with their normal activities, but someone with the flu can't. Flu can result in serious health problems like pneumonia, bacterial infections and hospitalization.

You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. Some people get a mild fever or have discomfort for a short time after being vaccinated, but this is a sign your body is responding to the vaccine. It is not the flu.

Also, because there are many viruses circulating in the fall, it is possible to get sick with a different virus around the same time you get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine for the 2019-2020 flu season does have some changes to hopefully better match the strains that are circulating this year.

To protect yourself against influenza, practice good hygiene, good health habits and get a flu shot. For more information, call your clinic or Horizon Public Health at 320-208-6672.

Marcia Schroeder is a registered nurse with Horizon Public Health, which serves five counties, including Douglas County. Contact her at marcias@horizonph.org.