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6 Ways To Fight The Flu You Probably Overlooked

Last winter influenza sent nearly 18,000 Americans to the hospital. Here's how to make sure you don't follow them this year.
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If you could avoid the misery of the flu -- the fever, the aches, the knives in your throat -- wouldn't you? Wouldn't anyone? Yet most of us don't take the proper precautions. In fact, nearly 60 percent of American adults fail to get their annual flu shot. If you're one of them, please take care of it now! And don't stop there—consider these other easy ways to protect yourself.

Clean your screen. I don't have to tell you that germs lurk on every doorknob, light switch and keyboard you touch. That's why it's a good idea to clean such surfaces regularly. But many of us forget to disinfect the one thing we keep in our hands -- and against our face -- all the time: our cell phone. One 2013 analysis found that some smartphones may harbor more bacteria than a toilet seat! Give your screen a daily once-over with a soft lint-free cloth, especially if you're already under the weather. And don't hand your phone to a friend, even if she looks healthy; research indicates that up to 77 percent of people infected with the flu report no symptoms.

Rest up. When you're hit with the flu, there's nothing you want more than sleep. But research suggests that it's the sleep you get before you come down with a virus that really matters. One new study discovered that people who slept six or more hours a night for a week were much better at fighting off the common cold than those who clocked less than that, possibly because adequate rest boosts immunity.

Scrub like a surgeon. Surgeons are famous for washing their hands thoroughly. In medical school, I had to wash mine for at least five minutes before going into the operating room. You don't have to invest that much time, but you need more than a quick rinse to make sure you're getting the flu off your hands (the virus can live outside the body for up to eight hours). Here's a trick to make sure you're washing long enough: Take a ballpoint pen and draw an X across your palms. Soap your hands and wash them until the Xs are completely gone. How long did that take? Now try to match that time whenever you're at the sink.

Get more vitamin D. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine revealed that adults with the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were 36 percent likelier to report having an upper respiratory infection in the previous few days than those with the highest levels. Research has shown that vitamin D plays a key role in immune function. To help get your fill, consume more fatty fish like tuna and salmon -- both are good sources of the vitamin.

Monitor the spread. Yes, there's an app for everything -- including following flu outbreaks. My favorite is FluView, created by the CDC. With the help of more than 3,000 healthcare providers nationwide, the app tracks possible cases of flu throughout the country so you can be apprised of outbreaks where you live.

Alternate your meds. If you do end up catching the flu, talk to your doctor about alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen every four to six hours to help lower your fever and reduce aching. While both types of pills have more or less similar effects, they act in different ways in the body. Think of it as a one-two punch attacking your symptoms from multiple angles so you can feel better faster.

Mehmet Oz, MD, is the host of The Dr. Oz Show (weekdays; check local listings).

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