It’s that time of year again. The days are shorter, leaves are falling, pumpkin spice is in the air… and flu germs are ready to attack you and your family. While fall is a festive season, it coincides so well with cold and flu season that preparing to fight these illnesses is as essential as setting your clock back an hour at the end of Daylight Savings.

Experts predict the 2019-2020 flu season will be a bad one. Based on the Australian flu season, this year’s virus appears to be H3N2, the same strain that caused an especially severe season two years ago.

While flu season can be scary, you can take precautions to protect yourself and your family from illness. Follow these 4 simple tips and you’ll be well on your way to staying healthy during flu season.

Steps to Preventing the Flu

Make sure everyone in your household is vaccinated.

While getting a flu vaccine is the single most important step you can take to protect yourself and others from getting sick, there is still a ton of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding flu vaccination. The CDC recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months (who doesn’t have severe allergies to the shot) be vaccinated.

The flu vaccine is available both as a shot and as a nasal spray. It takes two weeks for the vaccine to be effective in creating antibodies to prevent the flu; it is usually 40-60% effective depending on the year. You cannot catch the flu from the vaccine. If you get sick during flu season after having received the vaccine, your illness will be mild in comparison to what it could have been.

Flu vaccination doesn’t protect just you from the flu. It also protects those around you, especially members of vulnerable populations who cannot receive the vaccine. Ensuring that everyone in your home who is eligible gets vaccinated is a crucial step toward staying healthy this season.

Wash your hands regularly.

Regular hand washing is crucial in preventing the spread of flu and other contagious illnesses like the common cold. After the flu vaccine, this is the most important thing you can do to stay healthy during cold and flu season. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom or any time when you are likely to come into contact with germs.

Wipe down most-touched surfaces with antibacterial cleaners.

Keeping kitchen and bathroom surfaces clean is common sense, especially during cold and flu season. But don’t forget about smaller surfaces that are touched often, such as door handles, TV remotes, and light switches. These surfaces are easy to forget about but can harbor germs, especially if someone in your household is already sick. Make sure to clean these objects regularly (daily or several times a day) with an antibacterial wipe or cleaning spray.

Even your phone or computer mouse can be a hotspot for the flu virus. These items are touched constantly, often by multiple people, with or without clean hands. While it may take a bit more forethought than most items, cleaning your phone only requires a tiny bit of soap and a gentle cleaning tool like a soft cloth or even a clean toothbrush.

These items are easy to forget to clean because they don’t seem obviously dirty or germy. But being diligent about sanitizing can make a big difference in maintaining your family’s health, especially if someone has gotten sick.

Sanitize and replace your kitchen sponge regularly.

The sponge is worth mentioning individually because it’s such an unsanitary but overlooked household item. It harbors all kinds of harmful bacteria and viruses that can contaminate your kitchen and make you sick. If the flu virus has entered your home, especially if a family member is sick with the flu, it’s bound to find its way to your sponge.

To help prevent flu and food-borne illnesses, you should clean the sponge every week. A bleach-water solution is the most effective at killing germs, but running the sponge through the dishwasher or microwaving it in water for 1-2 minutes are also highly effective. Your sponge should be replaced every 2 weeks, or more frequently depending on frequency of use and whether anyone in your home is ill.

What to Do if You Get the Flu

While these tips are helpful, following them does not guarantee that you won’t catch a cold or flu. If you do end up getting sick this season, don’t panic. Make sure to take good care of yourself by getting lots of rest and drinking plenty of fluids for the duration of your illness. Take precautions to avoid spreading germs to others, such as following the sanitation principles outlined above. Talk to your doctor if you experience prolonged or alarming symptoms, and always be sure to stay home from school or work until you are no longer contagious.