It’s that time of year again - flu season. The flu can put you out of commission for more than a week, causing fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Some people may also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In extreme cases, the flu can even lead to hospitalization, even death.
Flu symptoms usually appear within two to four days of contracting the virus and the infection is considered contagious for another three to four days after symptoms appear. There are two strains of flu this year, seasonal and H1N1, and the symptoms and treatments are similar for both.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly seasonal flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against seasonal flu. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people age 65 and older. Medicare Part B covers annual flu shots.
Since there currently is a shortage of the swine flu, H1N1, vaccination, priority is being given to populations most vulnerable to the disease, such as pregnant women, babies and young people. Seniors, age 65 and older, do not seem to become sick with the H1N1 virus, and are not considered a priority for inoculation for swine flu.
Once you are protected with a flu shot, it is your responsibility to protect others and slow the spread of flu. The flu virus is passed from one person to another through fluids from mouth and nose secretions. When we cough and sneeze, those droplets go into the air. Always sneeze into a tissue or paper towel or, if you don’t have those with you, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand. By keeping the germs off your hands and out of the air, you will not spread flu germs to another surface and risk infecting someone else.
According to researchers, you can avoid spreading flu with good hand washing. To kill germs, communicative disease experts recommend washing with soap and warm water for 15 to 30 seconds, about as long as it takes to hum “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” If you are not near a sink, a gel sanitizer or an alcohol-based hand wipe also can be effective.
Rubbing your eyes, nose or mouth increases your risk of getting the flu. Germs can live on any surface for two hours or more. If someone around you is infected, their germs can stay on anything they’ve touched and can be transferred to your hands. When you touch your face, you transfer germs that can enter your body through any mucous membrane. One study found that people typically touched their faces fifteen times in an hour. It may be hard to break habits, but not touching your eyes or nose will greatly decrease your chances of infecting yourself.
It makes sense that if you do not want to get sick, avoid contact with sick people. This also means if you are sick, stay home. Take care of yourself and keep your germs to yourself. If you do not feel well, you are not productive. You also risk spreading your illness to everyone you come in contact with. If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or for other necessities.
It is hard to prevent all contact with germs. You can wash your hands frequently and avoid people who have the flu. But really, keeping yourself healthy is the best defense against the flu. Practice a healthy lifestyle, including good nutrition, regular exercise and enough sleep. When you are in good health, your immune system is stronger.