The flu season is almost here and now is the time for you to plan how to protect yourself and your loved ones from this serious, highly contagious illness. The flu can make you feel miserable and, for some, it can even be life threatening.
What is the flu?
Influenza, better known as the flu, is an infectious respiratory illness that causes fever, congestion, body aches, chills and fatigue. It is spread through the air by germs, especially when people sneeze and cough in public places.
What can I do to prevent the spread of the flu?
As the flu can easily be spread, it is important to remember to constantly wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer so you do not share your germs. Practice good health habits by getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing your stress, drinking fluids, and eating healthy foods.
Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick. And if you are sick with a flu-like illness, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as germs spread this way. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw used tissues in the trash. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine; after that, you will no longer be contagious.
Should I get the flu vaccine?
One of the best defenses against the flu is the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated annually, soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins. People that fit into the following categories should get the vaccine:
• Anyone six months of age and older
• Anyone over 50 years of age
• Women who are pregnant during flu season
• Anyone with long-term health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, diabetes and other illnesses
• Anyone with a weakened immune system, such as those living with HIV/AIDS, chronic steroid use or on chemotherapy
• Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities
• People who live with or care for people at high risk for influenza-related complications, such as healthcare providers, doctors, nurses and aides
• Caregivers of small children or the elderly
The vaccine can be given as a shot or as a nasal-spray. Both forms have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s best to talk to your primary care physician about which type of vaccine is right for you and your family members. It’s important to know that you can still get the flu even if you received the vaccine. However, your chances are greatly reduced. And contrary to some beliefs, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Who should not get the flu vaccine?
While most people should consider being vaccinated against the flu, the CDC recommends against the vaccine for people with the following conditions:
• People who have any severe life-threatening allergies
• People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past
• Anyone who has ever had Guillain- Barre syndrome, a severe paralyzing illness
• Children younger than six months of age
• People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen
When should I get the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is usually becomes available in October. Remember, this is an annual vaccine, so you need to get it each year to protect yourself from the virus. Children may need two doses, but your pediatrician will advise you if this is necessary.
How can I treat the flu?
If you get sick with the flu, it is important that you drink plenty of fluids, try to eat and get plenty of rest. You may also want to consult with your doctor about over-the-counter or prescription medications to help relieve some of your symptoms.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Vaccines for both adults and children are available at the health department, doctors’ offices, primary care centers and at some local retail pharmacies.