Colds and the Flu | Prevention


Can I prevent catching a cold or the flu?

You can reduce your risk of catching a cold or the flu by washing your hands frequently, which stops the spread of germs. Eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep also play a part in preventing colds and the flu because they help boost your immune system.

Cough and sneeze into the inside of your elbow (rather than into your hand). Clean common surfaces, such as table and counter tops, your child's toys, door handles, and bathroom facilities with anti-bacterial disinfectant. This can help stop the spread of germs.

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine. You should get the vaccine when it becomes available each fall (in October or November), but you can also get it any time throughout the flu season (into December, January and beyond). The vaccine is available by shot or by nasal spray. However, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend the nasal-spray vaccine should not be used for the 2016-2017 flu season. Data from the CDC and other groups showed poor or relatively lower effectiveness of the nasal spray vaccine during previous flu seasons.

Vaccines work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. The flu shot is safe for adults and all children 6 months of age and older, and it is strongly recommended that all children 6 months of age to 59 months of age get a yearly flu shot. The nasal-spray vaccine contains live but weakened viruses. It is safe for adults and all children 2 years of age and older who do not have asthma or breathing problems. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal-spray vaccine. While it is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season, there are certain patients who should always talk to their doctor before getting the nasal-spray vaccine. More Info.

Some people who get the vaccine will still get the flu, but they will usually get a milder case than people who aren't vaccinated. The vaccine is especially recommended for people who are more likely to get really sick from flu-related complications.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 09/16
Created: 01/96