The sniffliest season of all is among us, and it won’t peak until January or February. That’s right, it is prime time for the flu. Flu.gov, a website provided by the Department of Health and Human Services says that anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of Americans contract the flu every year.
Seasonal flu has symptoms that last one to two weeks, and should not be confused with what people call “stomach flu.” The flu is an upper respiratory illness. It ranges from mild to severe, and in extreme cases, can be life threatening. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually for flu-related reasons.
Symptoms of the flu can include: cough/sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, headache, body/muscle aches, chills, fatigue. Some people may experience fever, and/or nausea. Many of these symptoms overlap with the common cold. Flu symptoms are considered worse than what people feel when they have a cold. There are measures that can be taken to prevent being sidelined with the flu. Ahead of peak season, here are 6 recommendations for how to avoid contracting the illness this year.
1. Be aware
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (or, CDC) updates “FluView” every week. The website provides information on the number of cases in the U.S. throughout the season, and if the previous week saw an increase in influenza activity. This is then broken down into ten regions for the U.S.
The regions have their own, specific data sets, and residents can see the level of activity where they live. Strains of flu will be listed, and so will cases of pneumonia and complications associated with the flu. Having a general idea of the spread of the flu in the country, and how it is affecting the region where you live, will help you determine what precautionary measures need to be taken.
— CDC Flu (@CDCFlu) December 12, 2013
2. Get vaccinated
The flu shot is suggested every year for anyone who is six months and older. People who are at risk of having flu-related health complications are especially urged to get the vaccine. Children and infants, pregnant women, seniors, people with disabilities, people with health conditions, and travelers, or people living abroad are considered to be at risk. Additionally, people who live with one of the previously mentioned groups are also advised to have the shot. Mild side effects are possible, such as headaches, soreness, and fever.
3. Practice germ isolation
The virus that causes the flu is spread through the air, but can also spread from touching a surface that has flu-causing germs. A person can be contagious one day before symptoms appear, and up to a week after they began showing signs of the illness. One of the best ways to stay healthy is avoiding contact with people who have the flu and keeping others away from you if are sick.
Covering your mouth when you cough and nose when you sneeze will help to keep the virus out of the air. If you do not have a tissue, the CDC says to use your sleeve or elbow for sneezing and coughing.
4. Keep it clean
Washing hands has been promoted for years as one of the top ways to prevent the spread of germs. The CDC even calls it a “do-it-yourself” vaccine. Hand-washing should last about 20 seconds, or the amount of time it takes you to sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself. If, for whatever reason, soap and water are not available, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the next best thing.
Equally important to removing the germs from your hands is removing germs from objects you routinely come in contact with. Clean and disinfect door-knobs, keyboards, phones, and other surfaces you are in regular contact with.
5. Have good health habits
These are important habits to form year-round and can help fight off the flu. To stay in tip-top condition this winter, you should make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids, getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthfully, and managing stress.
Exercise may also be a key component for fending off the flu and other illnesses. Sandra Fryhofer, MD, MACP, clinical associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine, explained why on WebMD. “There’s something about making your heart pump that’s good for your body. It strengthens your heart and strengthens your immune system,” Fryhofer said.
6. Get treated
If you contract the flu this season, contact your doctor about treatment options. Groups in the high-risk category for health complications from the flu are also those most likely to be prescribed an antiviral drug, although other people may be treated as well. Antiviral drugs are not given out over-the-counter, so you will need to visit your doctor.
As a treatment, it may not significantly shorten the amount of time you are sick, but it could prevent complications that arise from the flu. It is most effective when taken one to two days after becoming sick, and are normally prescribed for five days. It is possible that the drugs could lessen symptoms as well. Two drugs are approved by the FDA and backed by the CDC for the flu this year are Tamiflu (generic name oseltamivir) and Relenza (generic name zanamivir).