How to avoid getting the flu

Despite popular belief, it’s not too late to get a flu shot. Flu season usually runs through the end of May. This contagious respiratory illness affects everyone differently, causing an inconvenience for some while bringing on serious complications for others.

Dr. Jason Bowling, medical director of infection control and prevention at University Health, said for some people, it’s more than a nuisance disease. “Every year there are people who die from the flu. It’s a serious illness and even young people can get critically ill with influenza,” he said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for most people, the flu lasts between a few days to less than two weeks.

Typical Flu Symptoms

  • Fever, chills
  • Cough, sore throat, runny nose
  • Muscle, body or headaches
  • Diarrhea or vomiting
  • Feeling tired

The Flu can Have Serious Consequences

In a three-month period, from Oct. 1 through Dec. 28, 2019, the CDC estimates that within the United States, the flu resulted in:

  • 6.4 – 9.1 million flu illnesses
  • 55,000 – 93,000 flu hospitalizations
  • 2,900 – 7,200 deaths

Those numbers are only a partial reflection of how many people will be sickened during this 2019-2020 flu season. We have another four months to go. Influenza activity usually begins in October, peaks between December and February and remains a concern through May.

In total, some 42.9 million people got sick during the 2018-2019 flu season, 647,000 people were hospitalized and 61,200 died.

People at Increased Risk for Complications

Some people are more susceptible to getting extremely ill from coming in contact with an influenza virus. These are some of the major groups identified as being at an increased risk for developing complications of the flu:

  • Children younger than 2 years old
  • Those 65 and older
  • Nursing home and long-term care facility residents
  • Pregnant women and women with a two-week old or younger
  • Those with cancer, asthma or blood disorders
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Children with neurological conditions
  • Those with preexisting chronic illnesses

University Health’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Bryan Alsip advises, “Getting a flu shot is a smart thing to do. It’s the best protection against becoming ill with influenza and to prevent others from getting the flu, particularly those who cannot receive the vaccine due to a medical contraindication.”

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a committee within the CDC, recommends that everyone six months and older get vaccinated. Dr. Alsip emphasizes that those younger than six months are especially vulnerable to influenza, making it more important for anyone who handles a baby to make the time to get vaccinated.

“When you get a flu shot, you play a key role in helping to minimize your own risk of getting the flu while also helping to protect those around you,” he said.

Some Symptoms Require Immediate Attention

Seek immediate medical attention if you have difficulty breathing, persistent pain in the chest or stomach, or have persistent dizziness/confusion. This also applies if you have a seizure, stop urinating, experience severe muscle pain or weakness, have a fever or cough that improves but then then worsens, or your existing medical condition gets worse due to the flu.

Prevent a Severe Case of the Flu with a Three-Pronged Approach

  • Get vaccinated – the earlier in the season the better
  • Stop the spread of germs – avoid touching your face
  • Treat flu illness early – take antiviral medications

The CDC agrees that the first line of defense is getting a flu shot. Also, prevent coming in contact with the influenza virus by staying away from others who have the flu. Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth - especially when you’re in public areas where surfaces may have been touched or contaminated by others. Wash your hands multiple times a day with soap and water.

If you have the flu, prevent spreading germs to family members and others nearby by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Stay home from work and other activities so you won’t infect others.

Keep in mind that antiviral drugs are most effective on the flu when they’re used within two days of getting sick. Antiviral drugs are not the same as antibiotics. Ask for a prescription for this type of medicine to help you recover more quickly.

Remember, it’s best to get vaccinated every year before the flu season begins because your immunity to influenza viruses decrease over time. Even if it’s several months into the flu season, you can still benefit from getting a flu shot. Make an appointment with your doctor to get the vaccine or visit one of our pharmacy locations.

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