Avoiding the Flu: 10 Habits That Are Putting You at Risk for the Virus

This year, the flu is particularly dangerous, with multiple deaths being reported.

how to avoid the flu

As soon as your nose starts running, your body starts aching, and your fever spikes, you know you've come down with the worst winter sickness out there: .

According to the , there have been nearly 9,000 confirmed flu-related hospitalizations since October, which is almost double from this time last year. , including a from the virus on Friday.

"This seems to be the worst flu season we've had here in the last 10 to 15 years," Dr. Adrian Cotton, chief of medical operations at the Southern California hospital, told ABC's . "We're seeing a lot more patients for the flu and the patients we're seeing are a lot sicker than usual."

One of the reasons this season has been so dangerous is because the dominant strain, H3N2, and has an impressive . Because of this, some doctors are encouraging patients to turn to to avoid risk of infection in over-flowing emergency rooms.

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."

Keep an eye out for these symptoms as winter continues, and don't forget your pets! There's a , and while it's a flu strain that's different than the one affecting humans, it puts your pup at risk as well.

Since the virus typically , avoid these mistakes to help avoid getting the (human) flu.

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1 Forgetting to wash your thumbs
how to avoid the flu

While washing your hands is the most obvious germ-killing trick, there's one common mistake that most people forget, according to Carolyn Forte, director of the 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.

2 Putting 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 use a soft cloth to wipe away grime.

3 Keeping toothbrushes too close

Flu, staph, strep, e-coli, and yeast commonly live on toothbrushes Dr. Heather Rosen, medical director of UPMC North Huntington Urgent Care, . Keep toothbrush covered or at least

4 Forgetting to 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 ," 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, ).

5 Wearing your shoes inside the house
shoes in house

"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.

6 Eating lunch at your desk
lunch at desk

Listen, your desk is than the average toilet seat, 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 the dirty surfaces, using Lysol Disinfecting Wipes ($5, ), before grabbing your sandwich.

7 Using your phone in the bathroom
phone in bathroom

Anything you take into the bathroom can get 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."

8 Forgetting to eat yogurt
yogurt good probiotic foods
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Researchers believe the probiotics in may have flu-fighting potential. A recent 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 .

9 Waiting too long to change your sheets
wash sheets

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.

10 Not getting a flu shot
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 , 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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