From the common cold to flesh-eating bacteria, diseases are all around us. But don’t freak out. Despite all of the nasty microbes floating around our world, there’s plenty that we can do to avoid them — even when it comes to the most feared seasonal condition.
The flu incapacitates millions of people every winter, while also posing a lethal risk to the elderly and infirm. It’s a sickness that nobody can shrug off. Fortunately, medical experts have plenty to say when it comes to warding off this disease, from suggesting effective treatments to revealing bogus home remedies.
Contagious, painful, and possibly deadly, the influenza virus is not something to be trifled with. What makes this malady even scarier is how easy it can be to come in contact with it. In some cases, you might not have much control at all.
Greg Hirson / Flickr
Naturally, many get the flu from direct person-to-person contact with another victim. But airborne transmission is another common cause. A single sneeze, for instance, sprays germs all over other people and shared surfaces. These particles can also hang in the air for ten minutes!
Making matters worse, the flu evolves with every passing year, which is why doctors keep a close eye on each strain’s differing symptoms and resistances. History proves just how damaging the bug can be.
James Gathany / CDC
The worst pandemic came in 1918, when the Spanish flu wiped out approximately 50 million worldwide. Granted, medicine has come a long way, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see such a high fatality rate. But individuals are also best off taking their own precautions.
While influenza can be dangerous, there’s no need to panic. Before you order a hazmat suit of off Amazon, please take into consideration the many options we have for fighting off this virus.
Georgia National Guard / Flickr
Any prevention plan should begin with an annual flu vaccine. Though not 100% effective, this shot is the best defense, plus your insurance will usually make it free. Of course, there’s that segment of the population that can’t stand needles.
Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr
For many between the ages of 2 and 49, FluMist is a prick-free way to protect yourself from the virus. This nasal spray provides the same level of immunization as a shot. Still, vaccination is only half the battle.
Everyone can limit the chance of infection by incorporating a few basic habits into their daily routine. Naturally, hand washing goes a long way and should be a common practice even outside of flu season. But many people are doing it all wrong.
Katherine Johnson / Flickr
Most children and adults alike do a poor job thoroughly scrubbing all the hard-to-reach parts of their hands. Each trip to the faucet should last at least 20 seconds, with hot water and soap, to kill the nasty germs hiding between your fingers.
By the same token, it’s impossible to keep your hands sterile all the time. That’s why doctors advise their patients to touch their faces as little as possible. Though a hard habit to break, resting your hand on your mouth can introduce countless germs to your system.
Shaking hands can also be a dicey prospect. As awkward as it can be, leaving someone hanging can be the safest option. To avoid making enemies, some people are inventing more hygienic forms of greeting.
Fist and elbow bumps have become fairly popular, though some doctors believe that even these gestures can spread infection. Perhaps an old-fashioned tip of the hat could make a comeback? Granted, humans aren’t the only hotbeds for germs.
Frequently touched objects, from keyboards to shopping carts to subway poles, can harbor germs even when they appear sparkling clean. Be sure to disinfect these surfaces, or at least minimize your contact with them.
But if you do get sick, there’s plenty you can do to speed along your recovery. Stock up on fluids and vitamin-rich foods so that your body will have the necessary nutrients to fight the virus. Also, take any medication prescribed by your physician.
Jesse Costa / WBUR
Most importantly, be mindful of your sneezing and coughing. Covering your mouth with a tissue is an easy way to stop the flu from spreading to many others. But what about a more controversial mouth-covering technique?
Surgical masks are becoming an increasingly common sight during flu season, even selling out during the 2020 outbreak of coronavirus. While some people refused to leave the house without a mask, plenty of skeptics doubted whether they could really prevent infection.
PBS NewsHour / Flickr
Infectious disease expert William Schaffner revealed the true story behind these masks. Though they’re certainly helpful for containing germs during medical procedures, there’s no evidence that they’ll keep out contagious particles during your daily routine.
YouTube / Vanderbilt Health
That said, some suggest that for those determined to wear a face mask, construction-grade N95 respirators could stave off the flu. But while the mask can block microscopic particles, that, unfortunately, makes it very difficult to breathe freely in for long periods of time.
The medical establishment largely agrees with Dr. Schaffner’s opinion, but that hasn’t stopped surgical masks from booming in popularity. For cities like Wuhan, China — where the coronavirus outbreak originated — no safety measure is out of the question.
Strict curfew and quarantine policies have stemmed the rate of infection of the flu-like virus in Wuhan. Putting bureaucratic regulations aside, the good news is that we have a secret weapon to fight pathogens.
That would be the human body. Our immune systems, for example, can adapt so quickly that they actually get better at fighting diseases as they encounter them more often. And in terms of the body’s complexity, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
WCC Anatomy and Physiology / YouTube
This fact will make you blush. That redness in your cheeks comes from all the capillaries throughout the body opening up in diameter. That means your entire system is turning redder — even the lining of your stomach.
We’ve all seen a character in a movie come up with a bright idea, right as a lightbulb appears over his head. It’s not that far from the truth. As a matter of fact, the electrical signals coursing through your brain are sufficient to power an actual bulb!
20th Century Fox
Why don’t you quit the sit-ups and focus on other muscles? After all, your face can contort into roughly 7,000 different expressions. It’s time to practice in front of the mirror until you can give Jim Carrey a run for his money.
You might have some trouble falling asleep at times, but be grateful you don’t have Exploding Head Syndrome. People with this condition will sometimes hear an imagined loud bang, possibly accompanied by a flash of light, when they doze off.
Climbing up Rapunzel’s hair might’ve come from a fantasy story, but it’s not that far from the truth. Human hair is next to indestructible, as each strand is strong and slow to decay. Only fire can turn it to smithereens.
Do you have a taste for the finer things? Do you also hit your head a lot? If so, you might suffer from a rare condition called Gourmond Syndrome, which drives you to consume gourmet food.
Forcing a smile, even in your darkest moods, might actually make you happy. When your facial muscles enter that position, they trigger the release of dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which will brighten your state of mind.
Most people know that veins, arteries, and capillaries ferry blood throughout the body, but have no idea just how intricate the circulation system is. If you laid out all your blood vessels into a straight line, they would circle the Earth twice!
Small as they may be, babies actually have more bones in their bodies than full-grown adults. It’s a difference of about 300 to 212, actually. The number decreases over time as individual bones fuse together.
Although mammals have distinct types of enamel coating their teeth, a harder mineral composition doesn’t always make a difference. For instance, scientists determined that our chompers are just as strong as a shark’s. Take that, jaws!
If you don’t like what you see on the scale, don’t blame yourself. Many of your organs weigh far more than you think. For one, the average person’s skin makes up a whopping 16% of their weight.
You spend a lot more time with your eyes closed than you think. While awake, the average person has their eyelids shut for about 10% of the time — mostly due to blinking!
Here’s some vital advice for any theme park fans who fear they’re too short to ride the big coasters. You’re at your tallest in the morning, as the spine gradually compresses as the day goes on. So hit Six Flags as soon as it opens.
Don’t let Hannibal Lecter know, but your liver actually regenerates! Even if reduced to one-quarter of its full size, it can grow back given enough time and nutrients. That’s why it’s possible to have a liver transplant from a living donor.
Ever wonder why old men seem to wear their pants so high? Maybe it’s fashion, but it could also be because humans shrink half an inch every decade after they reach age 30. Time to buy some new slacks, grandpa!
Nothing beats hanging with your buds — your taste buds, that is. Unfortunately for all the flavor fans out there, you lose about half of them by the time you turn 60. Better cherish them while you can.
The Huffington Post
Kissing isn’t only good for stoking romantic flames! Because the act causes your mouth to produce more saliva, which in turn washes away plaque, kissing prevents the formation of cavities! That’s really good news if you happen to be dating a dentist.
Cannonball! That’s something your unconscious actually shouts when you hit the water, as your body undergoes a “diving reflex.” This instinct shuts down nonessential functions so that you can focus on survival. With that in mind, enjoy your swim.
Flickr / BLURmedia
Grab a tissue for this factoid. Humans have three unique types of tear compositions, which differ depending on the cause (strong emotion, cleansing, reaction to irritant). Use all three in the kitchen; they’re like nature’s seasoning!
A 2013 NASA study determined that astronauts can grow up to two inches in space! This boost is thanks to the vertebra in the spine, which expand when not under the pressure of gravity.
The acid in your stomach could dissolve a razor blade. Testing this fact might require a trip to the hardware store (followed by a trip to the hospital), but you can also just take the word of experts on the Internet. Your call.
Zephyris / Wikimedia
Stomach? Pff. Who needs it? You can live without it, actually. A fair amount of the stuff squished into your body isn’t really necessary, including your spleen, a lung, a kidney, and 80% of your intestines.
St. Joseph’s Imaging
Your epidermis is showing! Don’t try to remove it, either, because it’d be fruitless: that outer layer of skin completely regenerates every two to four weeks. Every year, in fact, you lose about one-and-a-half pounds of dead skin.
Anyone who has ever broken a bone might not believe this one, but your bones are really, really strong. Pound for pound, their durability and strength blows steel out of the water. In fact, you could stack the weight of five pickup trucks—about 19,000 pounds—onto one cubic inch of bone without breaking it (though it depends how quickly the force is applied).
Popular Science Monthly
Believe it or not, your eye color isn’t necessarily static: About 10 to 15 percent of the Caucasian population undergoes eye-color changes. Careful though. Too dramatic a change can mean that you’re coming down with a nasty eye disease such as Fuch’s heterochromic iridocyclitis, Horner’s syndrome, or pigmentary glaucoma.
Nicholas Petrone / Flickr
Your lungs have a surface area roughly equal to that of a tennis court—that’s about 2,800 square feet. Can they take the force of a fierce Rafael Nadal backhand, though? That remains to be seen.
Believe it or not, 150,000 hairs sprout from the average human head, and each one of those hairs can support a weight of about three ounces. By combining the strength of each of your luscious locks, you could support 12 tons, or roughly the weight of two elephants! Maybe the story of Rapunzel isn’t so far-fetched after all?
In a standoff between hunger and sleep, hunger would win every time. That’s because you can live about three (tragic and horrific) weeks without eating, but a mere 11 days without sleep, you’ll start shutting down.
Your pinky—not your thumb—is actually where a good amount of your hand’s strength comes from. Turns out losing a pinky will cost you more than the ability to drink with class, it actually supports half of all the strength of your hand!
Your small intestine is about 20 feet long (oddly enough, the large intestine is only five feet long). That means you could loop your lower intestine around the rim of a basketball hoop and have it touching the ground on both ends. That’s a lot of guts all up inside you!
OpenStax College / Wikimedia
You’ve likely seen the red or violet eyes of an albino animal or human. In actuality, albinism leads to no pigment in the iris; light simply bounces right off the eye and then exits. This produces the “red” effect, and it’s the same lighting trick at work in red-eye photographs.
Felipe Fernandes / Flickr
If you’re healthy and average, it’s possible to produce four gallons of sweat per day. Even more fascinating: you don’t just keep sweating until you shrivel up and die. Your body will shut down and force you to cool off—or die trying—before you run out of liquid for sweat.
minghong / Wikimedia
You produce more body heat than you might think. Over the course of an hour, you radiate 350,000 joules of energy; that’s enough to match a light bulb’s output or boil a half-cup of water in just half an hour.
GRAN / Wikimedia
Over the course of your life, you’ll produce enough saliva to fill up two swimming pools. Unless you’re like one of Pavlov’s dogs come dinnertime—then you might drool a bit more. The good news? In half of a lifetime, you can have the pool you’ve always dreamed of.
ABZ Private School / Wikimedia
Human beings are the only living things which sleep on their backs. So that’s one way in which the movie Ted isn’t quite realistic, in case you were wondering.
Over the course of a person’s lifetime, they spend about 2 weeks kissing. Now that’s what we call a fortnight! And as a bonus, human lips are hundreds of times more sensitive than the tips of a person’s fingers.