man sneezing
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

With the arrival of fall colors and cooler weather, the change of seasons is already upon us. Unfortunately, this time of year also can include a less-than-welcome occurrence: the seasonal flu, with its combination of such symptoms as fever, headache, cough, sore throat and body aches.

“Seasonal flu, often called the 'common flu,' is a respiratory illness that most people have suffered from at one time or another,” said Narges Shariati Varnosfaderani, a primary care physician for the UC Davis Medical Group in Auburn. “Most of us have some immunity to it, which is why following some healthy habits can help most people avoid it.”

Seasonal flu is not to be confused with pandemic influenza or avian influenza (bird flu), which have been in the news lately. Pandemic flu is a global outbreak of a virulent flu to which people have little natural immunity. The avian flu has the potential to become a pandemic, but so far has remained confined to small, limited outbreaks. You can find out more about pandemic flu by going to

Interestingly, the recommendations for preventing seasonal flu are the same ones that would be used to contain pandemic influenza. These steps are easy to follow and can make all the difference in avoiding the common flu and staying healthy now and throughout the year:

  • Get a flu vaccination. Protect yourself against seasonal illness. It's the single best way to prevent the flu.

  • Wash your hands. Use soap and water often, especially after coughing or sneezing. Carry alcohol-based hand cleaners in your car, backpack or purse when soap and water are not available.

  • Keep your distance. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you're ill, stay home. You can help prevent others from getting sick.

  • Cover your cough. Use a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It can prevent the spread of germs. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your arm above your hand.

  • Don't contaminate. Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread this way, which is why hand washing is so important.

  • Maintain good health. Get plenty of sleep. Drink lots of water and eat nutritious foods. Get regular exercise. Manage stress. Being healthy helps fight the flu.