Flu season now in full swing: How to protect yourself
More than 30 million people caught the flu last season, resulting in 14.4 million medical visits and 381,000 hospitalizations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is already seeing an influx of flu activity, especially in the southern portion of the United States. Luckily, it’s not too late to take a few preventative measures to ensure you and your loved ones don’t become another flu-related statistic this peak season, January to March.
“The two keys to flu prevention are getting vaccinated and using common sense about the spread of germs,” says Alison Pittman, M.S.N., RN, CPN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing. “Just being within about six feet of someone with flu can cause it to spread to you. Unfortunately, the flu is active in our bodies one-to-four days before we show symptoms, so we can even spread the flu before we know we are sick.”
If you get infected, prepare to feel sick for a long while. The flu has a two-to-five day incubation period and can stay with you for one to two weeks.
To stay flu-free this season, Pittman suggests the following tips:
1. Get vaccinated, as it’s the most effective way to prevent the flu. New data from the CDC
suggests that early flu vaccination could prevent more than six million cases this flu season.
2. Wash your hands to help stop the spread of germs. Use an antibacterial cleanser if you can’t get to soap and water.
3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs can spread easily this way and it allows them to enter your body.
4. Practice good health habits to strengthen your immune system. Get a quality amount of sleep and exercise, drink plenty of fluids and make healthy food choices.
5. If you start experiencing flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider to determine if a visit to the physician’s office is necessary. Most importantly, stay away from highly populated areas – including work. Those infected can be contagious for up to seven days. If you are at risk for complications (such as persons with lung, heart/blood, or immune disorders) or have trouble managing your symptoms, see your health care provider. There are antiviral drugs available but they are most effective if used within the first two days of symptoms. Children under five and pregnant women are also at higher risk for complications.
For more information, contact your health care provider or visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/.