Does the sound of a cough or a sneeze send you running to the sink to wash your hands or rifling through your purse for your hand sanitizer? We are well into what has been labeled an aggressive flu season, and while public health experts believe that it may have “peaked” already along the Emerald Coast, there’s still a real chance you or your family could get bit by the flu bug.

Alex and Harper received the flu vaccine, via nasal spray, back in October. While I know many families choose not to pursue this option, I felt that the benefits outweighed the risks for our family. The one year we neglected to get the vaccine, both kids ended up sick.

According to local public health officials, vaccines are still available, and while they may take up to two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, flu season officially runs into February.

There may still be some benefit in getting vaccinated. Flu symptoms often look like the common cold, but they tend to appear quickly, while cold symptoms come up gradually.

Typical flu symptoms include fever, severe aches, chills, fatigue and weakness, chest discomfort, cough, headaches, and sometimes, sneezing and sore throat.

If the flu is diagnosed within 48 hours, a prescription like Tamiflu can lessen the symptoms and hasten the recovery period. Good, old-fashioned home remedies, like plenty of rest and fluids, are the best medicine. Treating fever and aches and pains with acetaminophen and ibuprofen is effective and humidifiers and vaporization are also effective ways to manage and ease flu symptoms.

Believe it or not, chicken soup can help with the flu. In studies, chicken soup has been shown to thin mucus membranes, helping to alleviate a stuffed up or runny noses. Chicken soup also provides some carbohydrates, and if it’s a lower sodium (or homemade) version, you’ll aid hydration. Green tea, garlic, berries, and oranges have also been known to boost your immune system and help you fight the flu.  Clover honey is also known to be a safe and effective cough suppressant for children (and adults) over the age of 1.

Of course, hand washing is the single best thing you can do to prevent the spread of flu germs. According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu germs can live up to six hours on your skin and eight hours on hard surfaces.

Encourage your kids to sing the “happy birthday” or the “ABC’s” while they wash their hands. These tunes are the perfect length for effective hand washing. If you have granted some hand washing independence for your elementary school kids, it may be time to start supervising again, at least until spring.

Regularly cleaning tables, phones, remotes, and especially toys, will help you combat germs around the house. A simple solution of hot soapy water or a commercial cleaning solution are effective tools.

In my house, the minute I suspect there’s an illness lurking, I open the windows and “air out” the house. I’m not sure if this effective or not, but it makes me feel better.

Whether you vaccinate against the flu or not, every parent agrees that if you or your child is sick, please, please stay home. The flu lasts about a week, so stock up on DVDs, books, crayons, and board games and hunker down. Spring will be here soon.

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at