Avoiding the Flu: Tricks to Keep Your Home Flu-Free

There are some common habits that are putting you at major risk.

how to avoid the flu
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As soon as your nose starts running, your body starts aching, and your fever spikes, you know you've come down with the dreaded winter sickness: the flu. According to the , the flu starts up in November, and can run its course until March. After last year's particularly horrible flu season (multiple deaths were reported, including a from the virus), these tips will keep the illness from infiltrating your home.

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When symptoms start

The says flu symptoms usually start suddenly, not gradually, and some of the signs you've come down with it include a fever or feeling chills, a cough, a sore through, a stuffy or runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, and in some cases vomiting and diarrhea. It's important to note that the also CDC says "not everyone with flu will have a fever."

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Always wash your thumbs

While washing your hands is the most obvious germ-killing trick, there's one common mistake that a lot people forget, according to Carolyn Forte, director of the GolfHr Institute Cleaning Lab: washing your thumbs. Since this finger touches some of the germiest surfaces (your cell phone keypad, your remote control buttons) it's not one to ignore.

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Never put your purse on the floor

Putting a purse or backpack on the floor is just an open invitation for unhealthy bacteria, especially if you drop it in a restroom or restaurant, and then place it on your kitchen table or counter. If you've already done this, and your purse is made out of fabric or leather, like most, Forte recommends mi a few pumps of mild liquid facial soap, like Cetaphil Daily Facial Cleanser ($8, ) with two cups of warm water, then using e a soft cloth to wipe away grime.

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Keep toothbrushes separate

Flu, staph, strep, e-coli, and yeast commonly live on toothbrushes Dr. Heather Rosen, medical director of UPMC North Huntington Urgent Care, . Keep toothbrushes covered or at least away from each other, especially if someone in the house is sick!

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Disinfect all handles

We always clean door knobs, but we often forget kitchen cabinet handles and range knobs. "Some of the germiest places in the house are the hot spots everyone touches," says Forte. You should give them a good wipe down at least every other day if you can remember, and daily if you know someone in the house is sick with the flu. For a fast fix, use Lysol Disinfecting Wipes ($15, ).

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shoes in house
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Leave shoes at the door

"Shoe soles have literally been everywhere and when you wear them inside, you track that onto your floors are carpets," says Forte. That means bringing outside germs that can make you sick inside your home, making everyone in the family susceptible to them, especially the kids.

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Don't eat lunch at your desk

Listen, your desk is , so the last thing you should do is eat lunch with your hands near this contaminated surface. To avoid this, head to the break room or disinfect dirty surfaces using Lysol Disinfecting Wipes ($5, ) before grabbing your sandwich.

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Keep phones out of the bathroom

Anything you take into the bathroom can get contaminated with germs or fecal matter (16% of cell phones have it, according to this ). "To kill germs, clean your phone with an alcohol wipe," says Forte. "Better yet: buy a box of individually packaged ones ($5, ) and keep a few in your purse or car."

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Stock up on yogurt

Researchers believe the probiotics in yogurt may have flu-fighting potential. A study in the also suggests that probiotics can help stave off upper respiratory tract infections. Blueberries and other dark berries will also help strengthen your immune system.

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Change sheets every two weeks

Sheets harbor germs, which means whoever is sharing your bed is going to be susceptible to any virus you may have brought into the house, and vice versa. The longest you should wait before changing out your sheets is two weeks, but weekly is better. "Launder bed sheets, pillowcases, and towels in hot water. Dry them using the antibacterial cycle or the hottest temperature your dryer offers," says Forte. For un-washable items, use a a fabric-safe spray, like Lysol Disinfectant Spray ($9, ) to kill bacteria.

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Get your flu shot

To protect against the flu, anyone six months or older should get vaccinated, says Amy Crawford-Faucher, MD, family physician and clinical assistant professor at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Continue to practice other germ-busting techniques after receiving an injection, though, because shots aren't 100% effective, she adds. As always, consult with your physician before you or any members of your family get the flu shot.

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Keep an eye on your pets

Earlier this year, the , and while it's a flu strain that's different than the one affecting humans, it puts your pup at risk.

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