As the holiday rush kicks into high gear, so is flu season. Right now, doctors are seeing more patients test positive for the illness that landed a half million people in the hospital last year.

While the number one way to protect yourself from catching the bug is to get a flu vaccine,  physicians are spreading the word about ways you can avoid flu germs throughout the holiday season.

“Flu is a very contagious illness that we all should take very seriously this time of year, “ says Dr. Benjamin Barlow, chief medical officer of American Family Care, the nation’s leading healthcare network with a local clinic.

“The holiday season is a hot time for flu season because people are spending more time indoors together whether it be at a social gathering or because it is just too cold to go outside.  Getting the flu shot and following a few habits to avoid flu germs can keep you healthy throughout the peak of the season.”

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the flu sickened 37 million people during the 2018-2019 flu season, and is blamed for at least 36 thousand deaths. And according to Harvard University researchers, 20-30% of people carrying the flu virus do not have symptoms and they can spread flu germs to others up to six feet away.

Barlow recommends five ways to stay healthy and avoid flu germs over the holiday season:

— Knuckle it. When using a debit card machine while shopping for holiday gifts, get into the habit of punching in your card pin with a knuckle instead of a fingertip. This way if you rub your eye or mouth with your fingertip, you’re not transferring germs.

— Pack sanitizing wipes for travel. Our nation’s airports are covered in germs over the holidays. A study by a microbiologist with travelmath.com found  the plane seatbelt buckle, seat tray table and the toilet flush button among the top spots coated with germs on a plane!  Your best defense, wipe down your space with a “flu-germ killing” sanitizing wipe before you sit down for take-off.

— Stop Vaping. We’ve heard the stories about the hundreds of respiratory illnesses related to vaping this year. New research published in the (italics) American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (italics end) reveals puffing on an e-cigarette also disrupts your normal immune response to viral infections, like flu.

— Play it safe at the pump. Drivers must get gas for their vehicles no matter what, sick or not. Protect yourself at the pump, grab a paper towel before picking up the gas nozzle. You can also use the paper towel as a barrier when punching in your debit/credit card info. 

— Hang up your Superman or Supergirl cape. If you are starting to feel sick, don’t try to be a superhero and do it all. No one wants to be exposed to your germs. Stay home from either work or school and don’t even run errands like to the drug store to get medicine. When you have a fever, you should always stay home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.

And It’s never too late to get a flu shot. It will not make you sick; it is a booster that helps your body fight off possible infection.