How where you live changes your chances of getting the flu

If you wonder why you always get struck down by the flu while your relatives in another city stay happily healthy, consider where you live. A new study in Science found that living in a metropolis or a small city can change the intensity of a flu season.

Looking at doctor visits for flu-like symptoms from 2002 to 2008 in more than 600 cities in America, the researchers found that  “epidemics in smaller cities are focused on shorter periods of the influenza season, whereas in larger cities, incidence is more diffuse.” If you live in a big city, your flu season is likely to be longer but may not be as intense as it would be in smaller cities.

“We are not saying that any one city is more dangerous than another,” Benjamin Dalziel, the lead author of the paper, told Gizmodo. “That said, we did find that in small towns the influence of cases appear to occur in a smaller period of time. So that more intensely focused pattern [can] affect the capacity of a healthcare system.

How to beat flu season

Too many flu cases can overwhelm an overworked healthcare system. To get ahead of having to schedule a visit with your doctor, focus on prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity begins to increase in October and is likely to peak in February.

To do your part in the fight against the flu, get your vaccine shot from your local healthcare provider and remember to wash your hands. In on study, it only took one participant’s infected hands four hours to contaminate more than half of all communal doorknobs, toilet handles, and light switches. There is strength in numbers. Getting vaccinated can increase herd immunity if you work in a collaborative workspace with many germ-filled surfaces.

And if despite your best efforts, you still get flu symptoms, do not be a martyr. Go home and take a sick day. Good office hygiene not only means knowing when to wash your hands and disinfect your workspace —it also means knowing when to call it quits and stay in bed.