Fight Off the Flu

(Family Features) Colder weather and cold and flu season go hand-in-hand. While you may not be able to completely avoid getting sick, you can take some steps to protect yourself and minimize the chances of a serious illness.

The flu is a highly contagious illness that can result in hospitalization and even death. Managing your own risk of exposure to the flu not only protects you, but can help minimize the chances of passing on a potentially dangerous illness to those in higher risk groups. Those with compromised immune systems and risk factors such as age (both the elderly and young babies and children) and other health conditions are at an elevated risk.

Know the signs
It can be easy to confuse whether you’re fighting off symptoms of a common cold or a more serious bug like the flu. A common misconception is that the flu is defined by fever, vomiting and diarrhea. While these symptoms may be present with a case of the flu, the flu is primarily a respiratory illness. A variety of tests can help verify whether you have the flu, with varying degrees of reliability. Unless a definite determination is required and may affect your treatment (for example, if you are pregnant and need to avoid certain medications), chances are your doctor will not administer a test and will instead treat your symptoms.

Get vaccinated
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine. Getting the vaccine early in the season is advisable because it can take as long as two weeks to be effective. Although the vaccination may not completely eliminate your chances of contracting the flu, it can minimize the severity of symptoms and reduce the likelihood of hospitalization due to the flu. Although the vaccine is available in both shot and nasal spray forms, the CDC recommends the shot as the preferred preventive method.

Other preventive steps
Although it is not always practical or possible, avoiding contact with those infected with the flu virus is an important preventive measure. The flu is very contagious and is thought to be transmitted in the droplets of saliva or nasal mucus that occur from coughs and sneezes. Encouraging those who are ill to cover their mouths with their sleeves or elbows (not hands, where germs are most easily transmitted) and regularly and thoroughly washing your hands can help reduce your risk, as well.

Treating the flu
Difficulty breathing, pain in the chest or abdomen, confusion, dizziness, severe vomiting and seizures are all indications that your illness requires immediate medical attention. Even if you aren’t experiencing these serious symptoms, you may benefit from a visit to the doctor, who can provide prescription antiviral drugs to shorten the length of your illness and help minimize the severity of symptoms. Other treatments include getting plenty of rest and preventing dehydration by drinking plenty of water or other clear fluids.

Find more cold weather tips for healthy living at

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4 Ways to Stretch Your Health Benefits

Often, employees enroll in medical insurance plans for protection against unpredictable events, sudden illness or serious health concerns that may result in expensive medical bills. Getting the most from your benefits requires understanding coverages and deductibles, as well as taking advantage of voluntary benefits, like dental, vision and hearing, to stay healthy and save money.

Avoid surprises. About 91 percent of adults in the United States are confused about what their benefits cover, according to a recent Harris poll. The best starting point is to review your plan so you understand the care and services covered. If you have a high-deductible plan, you will need to pay for most or a percentage of the health costs until reaching the individual or family deductible. Be prepared to pay any copayments or deductibles the plan requires before receiving care. Also, before scheduling appointments, ask for a cost estimate for the appointment, tests or service.

Preventive dental and vision. Many voluntary plans, such as dental and vision, offer preventive exams, such as routine cleanings and vision exams, that are fully covered. That’s because these preventive exams help to maintain and improve overall health and help reduce health costs. Voluntary coverage is affordable and many plans offer added incentives. For example, coverage for LASIK, dental, vision and hearing benefits can increase from one year to the next for those who continue to enroll and use their benefits. Members could earn monetary rewards to use for dental, vision, LASIK, orthodontia and hearing benefits, care materials and services simply by using their benefits and keeping the benefits paid out under a specified amount.

Medical screenings. Routine health screenings, such as mammograms, immunizations, colonoscopy procedures and prostate cancer screenings, which may be covered fully or in part by your medical coverage, can help you stay healthy and lower health care costs.

Get paid to save. Many employers encourage employees to save money by matching a percentage of the amount the employee contributes to the plan. If available, enroll in a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account to set aside money to pay for health care costs.
Remember that these accounts are not a substitute for the coverage provided by voluntary benefits.

Learn more about the questions to ask when reviewing benefit plans at

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