WebMD Now: The Real Scoop on Shooing the Flu

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Winter is here And that means flu season is also here. This isn't just a bad cold. It's much worse, and potentially more dangerous. The flu affects up to 20% of the US population every year. And about 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications of the flu, like pneumonia and dehydration.

It's the symptoms and their severity that separate this viral vixen from the common cold. Fever, sore throat, headache, aches, chills, and fatigue-- if you have all of this going on and your symptoms are intense and came on suddenly, then you could have the flu, which means it's time to check in with your doctor.

She might prescribe anti-viral medication to help you beat the flu faster. But you have to take it within two days of your first symptoms. There are also over-the-counter medications that can help ease your symptoms.

Remember, you can still be contagious after taking medicine. To be safe, doctors recommend you stay home until you have had no fever for 24 hours without needing fever-reducing medications. So don't be a hero. Stay home and keep your flu to just you.

The good news is there are also some simple steps that can help you feel a bit better. Drink lots of liquids, like water, juice, and broth. And get plenty of rest.

But you know what's easier than beating this bug? Not getting it in the first place. The flu spreads from person to person mostly through coughing, sneezing, or being close to someone who has it. The real bummer is people can spread the virus before their symptoms start. And they even know that they're sick. So be extra careful all season long.

Wash your hands a lot. Use soap and water or hand sanitizers when you can't wash. Cut back on close contact. One hand shake could make you super sick. And don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Doing so is like an invitation for germs to enter your body.

But the very best way to cut your chances of getting sick is to get the flu vaccine. Adults over 65, pregnant women, and children under 5 are most at risk for serious flu-related complications. But every person six months or older should get the flu vaccine each year to lower their chances of getting sick. So don't hesitate.

There you go, everything you need to do to keep the flu away from you.