14 January, 2019

It's Flu Season: Flu Prevention and Management

It’s January, and we are in the thick of flu season. Last winter was one of the most severe flu seasons in recent years, leading to almost 80,000 deaths and nearly a million hospitalizations in the U.S., according to estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that during the 2017-2018 flu season, low vaccination rates could have been a factor in the severity of the outbreak. Only 7 percent of adults got the flu shot, a 6 percentage point drop from the previous season. More people do appear to be getting vaccinated this year and in December, the percentage of doctor’s office visits for flu-like illnesses were lower than the number of visits during the same month last year.

Still, experts warn that the flu is extremely difficult to predict. The best way to protect yourself is by getting a flu shot. If you haven’t gotten one yet, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. says you should still get one as soon as you can.

Smart Steps to Prevent the Flu

For almost everyone over 6 months of age, getting vaccinated against the flu is the most effective way to protect yourself and those around you, according to health experts.

Flu season usually peaks sometime between December and February so even if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, the CDC still recommends getting one. The vaccine will take about two weeks for any immunity to fully kick in.

Pregnant women should absolutely receive a flu shot. Only about half of all pregnant women were vaccinated against the flu during the 2017-2018 season, according to data from the CDC. The flu can be especially dangerous for pregnant women because their immune systems don’t work as effectively as they normally do and pregnant women who do get the flu, become extremely ill. The flu shot is perfectly safe for expecting mothers.

Additional Preventative Steps You Can Take

While some years the vaccine is imperfect, experts still recommend getting your shot each year. They stress that some effectiveness is better than no effectiveness. And even if you do end up getting the flu, if you’ve been vaccinated, you’re less likely to become seriously ill. Most children who die from the flu have not been vaccinated.

In addition to getting the flu vaccine, there are a few additional steps you can take to avoid flu germs this time of year:

  1. Consider using a humidifier in your home. As we run the heat more, the air becomes more dry and the dry air actually helps the flu virus live longer. Experts recommend keeping humidity levels at 30 to 50 percent.

  2. Avoid touching your nose and eyes, to reduce the chance of transferring any virus you might have on your hands to those sensitive areas.

  3. WASH YOUR HANDS OFTEN. Use soap and water and rub hands together for at least 20 seconds. When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

What to Do if You Get the Flu

If you do end up contracting the flu virus, the most important thing you can do is rest and keep yourself hydrated. If you have fever, headache and achiness, opt for acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic), ibuprofen (Advil and generic), or naproxen (Aleve and generic).

Ask your doctor for a prescription for an antiviral medication right away if you develop a fever, cough and/or body aches. Also, if you are 65 or older, obese, or have a compromised immune system or chronic health concern, you should also take an antiviral medication immediately. Your pediatrician might recommend antivirals for children who have severe flu or a chronic health condition, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease.

An antiviral medication can shorten the flu by one to three days, ease symptoms and cut the risk of complications, but only if the medication is started within 48 hours of getting sick.

Avoid cough suppressants (flu coughs usually go away on their own), as well as antibiotics, which won’t work for viral infections and can contribute to antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

If your flu symptoms start to improve, but then fever returns and your cough worsens, or if you experience difficulty breathing, pain in the chest or abdomen, dizziness or confusion, or severe or persistent vomiting, you should see your doctor right away.

14 January, 2019


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