Fending off The Flu

The flu is a serious respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. The flu season can begin as early as October and sometimes lasts until May. Symptoms, which can range from mild to very severe, include a fever or chills, head and body aches, fatigue, sore throat, cough, headache, runny or stuffy nose, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Most people who get the flu need to spend time in bed resting, and may feel sick for as long as two weeks.

Each year, according to the CDC, the flu is associated with around 200,000 hospital admissions and 49,000 deaths in the United States. Early treatment is especially important for those who have a higher complication risk. If you get the flu, there are prescription antiviral drugs that can treat your illness, if they are prescribed early enough.

Who is most vulnerable?

Some people have an increased risk of developing a severe case of the flu:

  • People 65 and older
  • Individuals whose immune system is compromised by conditions such as HIV, hepatitis, and cancer
  • Pregnant women
  • Individuals who live with, or care for people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems
  • People with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or other chronic conditions

How the Flu Spreads

Flu viruses are airborne and spread through the air when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. They can also be transmitted when uninfected people touch a contaminated surface and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose. Unfortunately, people with the flu may already be contagious the day before they develop symptoms and as long as five to seven days after getting sick.

Another Year, Another Strain, Another Vaccine

The best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated. We recommend yearly vaccination for everyone above the age of six months. There are two types of flu vaccine:

  • Injection which contains the dead flu virus
  • Nasal spray which contains live but weakened flu viruses that have lost their ability to cause disease

Check with your doctor to see which form of the vaccine would be best for you or your child.

The flu vaccine causes the body to makes antibodies that provide immunity against the real virus. These antibodies remain at high levels for only six to nine months, which is why you need to be revaccinated each year. In addition, the flu virus mutates rapidly, and the vaccine must be modified yearly to be effective against the most recent strains.

Tips for Fending off the Flu

Listen to Dr. Gregg Tolliver’s tips on how to avoid contracting the flu. Besides getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in your area, read on for some other measures you can take to keep from catching or spreading the flu.

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough by coughing into your sleeve or upper arm. If you cough into a tissue, throw it in the trash afterwards, and clean your hands.
  • Clean your hands frequently.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Use alcohol sanitizer or wash hands with soap and water and keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer on your desk at work.
  • Keep your work surface clean and use disinfectant to wipe down your desk, keyboard, mouse, telephone, and other objects you frequently touch
  • Avoid borrowing coworkers’ office supplies or phone
  • Don’t go to work sick
  • Keep your child home if he or she gets the flu. (The Center for Disease Control recommends that children stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone).
  • Try not to let your home or workplace get too dry. The flu bug thrives in dry nasal and oral passages – one reason flu epidemics occur in dry winter months. If you keep your nasal passages and mouth moist, your body will be better able to flush out the flu bug.

Help Us Keep Our Patients Safe

Flu season is a challenging time for hospitals. We may be treating very sick flu patients and our staff makes every effort to avoid contracting or spreading the disease. In addition, we have to protect patients who are elderly or immunocompromised. We also ask that you please do not visit the hospital if you have ANY of the flu symptoms listed above – even a mild case of the sniffles.

In many healthcare settings, transmission-based precautions are used to help stop the spread of germs and protect patients, visitors, and hospital staff. If you’re in good health, but the person you are visiting in the hospital is on transmission-based precautions, talk to a nurse before entering the room. He or she will tell you what steps to take, such as wearing a mask, a gown, and/or gloves, to avoid contracting or spreading infection.