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Three Steps Toward A Healthier Flu Season

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) said today that Missourians can improve their chances of fighting off influenza and staying healthier this flu season by taking three simple steps. By getting the flu vaccine, taking everyday precautions, and taking flu antiviral medicine if the doctor recommends it, people stand a good chance of avoiding the misery and even serious illness flu can cause.

"We never know exactly when the flu will strike here in Missouri, nor can we predict how many people will become ill with the flu. We can be certain, though, that the flu is coming, it will make people sick and even take the lives of some Missourians," said Jane Drummond, DHSS executive director. "But we also know that, if people will take these three simple steps, they can greatly lower their risk of getting the flu or becoming seriously ill if they can't avoid it. We really hope Missourians will do all they can to fight the flu this year."

Step #1 Take time to get a flu vaccine.

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccination each year. The flu can strike anytime from now until spring, so it is not too early to get the flu vaccine. While influenza outbreaks can happen in early Fall, Missouri's flu season typically peaks in January or February.

Persons who should be especially concerned about being vaccinated are:

* All persons, including school-aged children, who want to reduce their risk of becoming ill with influenza or of spreading it to others;

* All children and teens, ages 6 months through 18 years;

* All persons age 50 years or older;

* All children and teenagers receiving long-term aspirin therapy;

* All women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;

* All healthcare personnel;

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* All residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities;

* Household contacts of children ages 0-59 months (especially younger than 6 months), and adults 50 years and older with high risk medical conditions;

* Adults and children with any high risk medical condition;

* Persons planning travel to an area of the world with influenza activity; and

* Any persons who would like to reduce their risk of contracting influenza.

Drummond added that people over age 65 and those with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes should discuss obtaining pneumonia vaccine with their physicians. The vaccine is effective in preventing many types of pneumonia, the major complication from influenza.

She noted that vaccine for this year's flu season has been manufactured and distributed on schedule. The vaccine, in injection and nasal spray form (FluMist), should be plentiful and easy to obtain from healthcare providers, local public health agencies and clinics across the state.

Step #2 Take everyday precautions.

Drummond said that simple, everyday precautions have proven to be some of the most effective ways people can protect themselves and others from the flu and many other illnesses. Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with a barrier other than your hand, such as a tissue or paper towel. If these are not available, cough or sneeze into your sleeve or crook of your elbow

Frequent, thorough hand washing is also a key way to prevent picking up or spreading the flu virus from person to person or from hard surfaces. The best way is to wash hands several times a day using lots of soap and warm water. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are effective for use between washings or when soap and water aren't available.

If you do eventually come down with the flu, DHSS recommends that you stay home from work and school and limit contact with others in the community to keep from spreading infection.

Step #3 Take flu antiviral medications if your doctor recommends them.

Antiviral drugs have been proven to be an effective treatment option if a person does get the flu, but should not be considered a substitute for vaccination. Antiviral medications can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications. The effectiveness of the medication depends on how soon you begin taking the medications after the onset of your flu symptoms.