As winter approaches, employees in the United States will miss an average of 17 million work days because of the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that these absences result in $4.7 billion in health care costs for individuals and $7 billion in lost productivity for companies.

Keep yourself healthy during cold and flu season with these important preventive measures.

Get an annual flu shot

Vaccination is the most important thing you can do to prevent the flu. The CDC says that everyone age six months and older should get an annual flu shot, except for those who have life-threatening allergies to the ingredients in the vaccine. Even if you got the flu shot last year, the vaccine receives an update each season based on the predicted flu strains.

Practice good hand hygiene

Wash hands frequently to avoid getting sick. Lather with soap and warm water up to the elbows and scrub for 20 seconds, or about the amount of time it takes to hum through the happy birthday tune twice. It is particularly important to wash hands after using the bathroom or coming in contact with someone who has been coughing or sneezing, as well as after you sneeze or blow your nose.

Stay home when you are sick

Even if you only have a cold, staying home from work or school protects others from contracting your illness. It also gives you the rest you need to get well. When you return to school or work, clean and disinfect your desk, computer monitor and other areas that could house germs. When out in public, avoid shaking hands with others whenever possible during cold and flu season.

Take care of yourself

Getting regular exercise, striving for eight hours of sleep each night and eating a nutritious diet with lots of vitamins and minerals boosts your immune system. This will help your body fight off germs that lead to the cold and flu.

Flu shots become available each year in September. Talk to your doctor about scheduling your vaccine.

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