Easy steps to battle the flu this year

With flu season upon us, we want to make sure everyone is taking the right precautions to prepare. Nationwide, more than 80,000 Americans died from the flu and complications from the virus last winter – the highest number in almost 40 years.

At Prisma Health alone, nearly 500 patients were hospitalized because of flu or flu complications during last year’s flu season. In that same time, more than 10,000 patients were seen in our emergency departments with flu-like symptoms.

The single best way to prevent yourself or your family members from getting the flu is also the easiest – get a flu shot.

While getting a flu shot may not completely protect you from the flu, the vaccine will decrease your likelihood of getting the illness. If you do still get the flu, symptoms are typically far less severe, and the illness is shorter in duration, meaning fewer missed work/school days.

Here’s what else you need to know about flu prevention:

  • Don’t wait. While seasonal influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, in most years influenza activity peaks between December and February. Get vaccinated now to help ensure maximum effectiveness throughout the entire flu season.
  • Each year, millions of children get sick with seasonal flu; thousands are hospitalized and some children die from it.
  • Children should be vaccinated for flu at 6 months of age.
  • By getting the flu shot, you are also helping to protect the people around you, including those who are more susceptible to developing serious complications. For babies younger than 6 months, their key protection comes from “herd immunity” of everyone else around them getting their shots.
  • If you’re 65 or older, ask for a high-dose vaccine.
  • Those with chronic health problems should ALWAYS get vaccinated. It’s shown to be an important tool to help prevent complications associated with diabetes, heart and lung diseases.
  • The vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease.
  • Vaccination reduces risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection in pregnant women.

Shots cannot give you the flu, but they can make the injection site sore, and you may feel achy. To counter that, consider taking an anti-inflammatory medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen a couple of hours before the vaccine.

In addition to getting the flu vaccination, take good care of yourself by having good health habits such as a healthy diet and exercise. Cover your mouth with your arm – not your hand – when you cough or sneeze. Frequently wash your hands with soap or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The flu virus can survive up 48 hours on surfaces, so wipe down surfaces in your home with disinfectant. Especially if you have young children or vulnerable adults in your family, consider carrying sanitizing wipes with you and using them as needed on outings.

If you do get the flu, immediately call your provider about whether antiviral drugs are appropriate for you. They can lessen flu’s symptoms and duration, but work best when started within 48 hours of initial diagnosis.

By Bill Kelly, MD, and Robin LaCroix, MD. Dr. Kelly is an epidemiologist with Prisma Health and Dr. LaCroix is medical director of Prisma Health Children’s Hospital–Upstate and a pediatric infectious disease physician.

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