Posted Jan.14, 2013 in Health & Wellness
If you have watched the news or read the newspaper recently you noticed numerous headlines about the rapid spread of the flu throughout the nation. Major cities have declared public health emergencies as the number of people infected grows and the death toll increases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps up-to-date information posted on their website so that people can know the symptoms of the flu, how to help protect themselves from it, and to how to help prevent the spread of it. The following information is from the CDC.
Flu Can Be Serious
Influenza, commonly called the “flu,” is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. CDC estimates that from the 1976-1977 flu season to the 2006-2007 season, flu-associated deaths each season ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people.
Get a Flu Vaccine
The first and most important step is to get a flu vaccination each year. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, you should still try to. With very few exceptions, everyone 6 months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine as soon as vaccines are available. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk to decrease their likelihood of getting sick and possibly having serious illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease), and people 65 years and older.
At this point flu vaccine may be harder to find now than it was earlier in the season. You may need to contact more than one provider (pharmacy, health department, or doctor) to find available vaccine. The flu vaccine locator may be helpful to you in your search.
If you’ve already been vaccinated this season, you have taken the most important step to protect yourself and those around you from flu. Unfortunately, there are a couple of reasons why it’s still possible to get the flu despite being vaccinated. First, people may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period it takes the body to develop an immune response following vaccination. Second, there’s a possibility of catching a different flu virus not included in the vaccine. Most of the viruses characterized by CDC have been like the viruses in the vaccine, but the flu vaccine is not likely to protect against other viruses. And last, sometimes the flu vaccine doesn’t work as well for some people, which means that some people can get sick with the flu despite being vaccinated. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends, in part, on the health and age of the person being vaccinated. In general, the flu vaccine works best among young healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses may develop less immunity after vaccination. For that reason, it’s important to know what else you can do to help keep you from getting sick, and what to do if you do get sick with flu.
Take Everyday Preventive Actions to Stop the Spread of Germs
Everyday preventive actions are steps that people can take to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illness, like flu. They are not a substitute for vaccination. These include the following personal and community actions:
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you or your child gets sick with a respiratory illness, like flu, limit contact with others as much as possible to help prevent spreading illness. Stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to seek medical care or for other necessities. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. This will block the spread of droplets from your mouth or nose that could contain germs.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
Take Flu Antiviral Drugs if Your Doctor Prescribes Them
If you do get the flu, there are antiviral drugs that can treat your illness. They are a second line of defense. This type of medication is not available over-the-counter so you will need a prescription, but antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They are most effective when started within 2 days of getting sick, though starting them later can still be helpful, especially for those with high risk conditions. Early treatment is especially important for people who are at high risk of flu complications. Your doctor will decide whether you need antiviral drugs and CDC has provided guidance on who should be treated.
Let’s all do our part to prevent the flu.