Your Cold and Flu Season Survival Guide

There’s no doubt about it: We are in the thick of winter. And while we have a fresh start to the new year, many of us may be experiencing the same old cold and flu symptoms we get every year. Through my position at the FDA and as a physician, I’m accustomed to giving advice on how to stay safe and healthy during the winter months. Yet I know us men often find ourselves bypassing guidelines here and there, thinking we can power through the season without precautions.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. We’re not invincible, and everyone needs to be prepared in order to avoid catching a cold or the flu. The CDC is currently reporting that cold and flu season is beginning to peak now, and Americans will catch about one billion colds in a year. Here are some basic tips and habits to keep you healthy and safe this time of year:

  • Get this year’s flu vaccine. If you missed your flu shot during the fall, it’s not too late. Getting vaccinated is the best way to reduce the chances that you’ll get the flu and spread it to others. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop protection against the flu, so go ahead and get it now.
  • Wash your hands repeatedly throughout the day. Scrub for at least 20 seconds, which is about the length of two renditions of “Happy Birthday.”
  • Don’t touch your face. Germs are often spread when a person touches something contaminated and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Take good care of yourself. Practicing healthy habits—getting plenty of sleep, exercising, drinking lots of fluids, and eating nutritious food—can help build up your immune system.
  • When you’re sick, stay home from work and away from people, and know which medicines will treat your symptoms and how to take them safely.

If you do get hit with a bug and choose to treat it with medicine, keep in mind that many multi-symptom cold and flu medicines contain a common drug ingredient called acetaminophen. In fact, acetaminophen is found in more than 600 different over-the-counter and prescription medicines. It’s safe and effective when used as directed, but there’s a limit to how much you can take in one day. Here at FDA, we’ve set a maximum daily dose of 4,000 milligrams (mg) of acetaminophen in a 24-hour period. Taking more than directed can lead to liver damage, so if you do get sick this season, here’s how you can make sure you’re using medicines with acetaminophen safely:

  • Always read and follow the label.
  • Know if your medicines contain acetaminophen.
  • Take only one medicine at a time that contains acetaminophen. Double check, don’t double up!
  • Ask your healthcare provider or a pharmacist if you have questions about dosing instructions or medicines that contain acetaminophen.

These guidelines are simple, and I bet for many of you, they’re reminders of things you already know. Follow these tips, and stay healthy this cold and flu season. To learn more, visit and follow @KnowYourDose on Twitter.

John Whyte, M.D., M.P.H., is the Director of Professional Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement for the FDA.

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